Seeing a flower pot laying on its side with dirt spilled out onto the carpet, Brenda asked, and in a tone of voice that would have shamed the Devil:
“Who did this?”
Both puppies froze in their tracks. Lila Bea wagged her tail, and just looked at Brenda showing no signs of having understood the question. Not Zipper. He turned his head looking off into the next room. He would not make eye contact. Not only did he understand the question, he knew the answer to it.
Does a dawg have a conscience? Is it likely that they can have scruples? Can a dawg know shame? I think they can, but their reasons for it don’t always correspond to what would make any sense. For example, the puppies will chew on furniture pulling stuffing from upholstery and quilting with you looking at them. It doesn’t matter how much displeasure you’ve shown in the past for this behavior. If you say anything while they are doing it, they’ll look at you as if to say: “What?”
The same is true for tearing up shrubbery, or dragging a pile of sticks up onto the patio. No note of guilt will resonate in their little brains. Somehow, those actions don’t seem wrong to a dawg, and it makes no difference to them who might witness it.
An allowance here has to be made about food: a dawg cannot be expected to ever feel bad about taking any morsel that is within their reach. To them, taking it is required, in fact mandated by the very laws of nature. If a platter of meat is on a tray at the edge of the counter, a dawg will jump to the conclusion that your very intention was to make it available to them. And, as all of you know from experience, it may as well have been.
There is something to think about if a dawg shows discretion. Lila Bea is cautious of anything that makes a loud noise, as if it has an association with discomfort. This is not unusual, as canines have a keen sense of hearing, and most puppies instinctively react to noise without need of any caution light or other visual sign. You and I know that a gunshot could be associated with a bullet, and lightning with thunder, but dawgs cannot make that connection.
Lila is also particularly interested in aromas whether you can detect them or not. Additionally, she must have motion sensors built into her head, because the slightest movement attracts her even if she is asleep. Although sound by itself is a caution to her, should it be hooked up with something that stinks and moves, she is on it. There is no other reason why she would want to chase after a noisy garbage truck, is there?
Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah seldom sees anything as an obstacle, and can crash headlong into almost anything except an upright container. He can have a pileup with furniture, doorjams, shrubbery, and people. If we let him run loose up the street, he might knock over a lamp pole or street sign, but never a trashcan.
I’ve seen puppies turn their food dish upside down and eat off the floor or ground, but not Zipper. You could place a glass of water on the kitchen floor, and he would not knock it over. And this is not because he wouldn’t want to spill it, that’s not it at all! I’ve seen him dig in his water dish outside with his front paws until almost all the water has been splashed out of it, but he will not turn it over. I’ve even arranged for this to be observed by clergy in case there could be an indication of some need of exorcism. In both cases, clergy just laughed. The reaction was the same, and it made no difference how much or how little the clergy had been drinking at the time.
Lila, on the other hand, could knock over a dumpster and think nothing of it. Since both dawgs have been raised together since puppyhood, and treated generally about the same all of their lives, I cannot think of a single reason for this selective difference, except that it is obviously intentional on Zipper’s part.
If one of Zipper’s chew toys is playfully tossed down the hall, he will retrieve it always unless it bounces into the wastepaper basket in my office. That has happened a few times. When it does, Zipper just stands by the basket and waits for one of us to get it out. But if a rubber ball rolls under the couch, he will eat the couch if necessary to get to it. What in the world has caused him to not want to even bump into a trashcan, but would readily and willingly eat a couch if it got between him and a toy?!?
The other day, I’d gone outside to make a phone call. I can usually do that in the house, but not with a lit cigar. We have rules. The dawgs could see me through the sliding glass door, and evidently, it made them nervous for me to be so alone and unprotected. So, they paced back and forth by the glass door the whole time I was outside. Brenda said Lila whined a good bit. Somehow, during their trepidations, a houseplant and the large pot of dirt it was in fell over spilling potting soil onto the living room carpet.
I heard Brenda ask the question, then I heard Brenda laughing. I walked in to see what was going on. Again, and this time in my presence, she pointed to the dirt and asked:
“Who did this?”
Lila Bea gave no indication that she was aware that a question had even been asked. She ignores most questions unless they have the words: “food”, “biscuit”, “supper”, or “ice cube” in them. But Zipper clearly heard the question, and for the second time in mere minutes, again understood what it meant.
He stood without moving except to slightly turn his head away. I looked right at him, and he diverted his eyes. I saw this, as would most of you, as an admission of guilt. Remember that if you are ever accused of anything, and have to go to trial. This kind of behavior in a courtroom could cause jurors to jump to conclusions, which might not prove to be in your best interest.
This sort of thing has happened before, and I’ve wondered about it. Recently, I was talking with my friend Andy who has years of post-graduate studies in all kinds of behavior except his own. I’d asked if he’d ever caught glimpses of what a dawg might be thinking. I was particularly curious about what you could learn from certain expressions as you might see in a dawg. He looked down at the profoundly expressionless face of one of his dawgs and said:
“Mine don’t spend a whole lot of time studying about anything. If he looks guilty, it’s because he just naturally looks that way, and not because he’s thinking anything.”
I looked at Beau, bless his heart, and had to agree with Andy. Then he continued:
“You never get the impression that Beau knows something that nobody elses knows. I don’t reckon he’s ever had a secret that he was aware of. I’ve had Beau a long time, and at no time has he ever had an original thought.”
I looked down at Beau, and decided Andy was being generous to use the word “original”. Beau is a very pleasant animal. You wouldn’t mind him in your lap, but I suspect you wouldn’t want to partner with him in trivial pursuit.
I don’t know why Zipper has a conscience about knocking over a flower pot, but considering the number of them we have around the house, that isn’t altogether a bad thing. What might compel a dawg to feel guilty? I don’t know. It might happen when we are not looking, but I doubt it. If that were true, the implication would be that dawgs are capable of a higher moral sense than man himself. Come to think of it, and especially with this being an election year, that ain’t saying so very much at all.
“Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.” -Mark Twain