Compelling Guilt: Zipper Diverts His Eyes

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

12 responses to this post.

  1. Were you spying in our kitchen the night before last? Our docile, adorable, beloved, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, big brown eyes would melt anyone’s 12-year old King Charles opened the fridge and devoured a whole chicken. Well, I reckon it has to have been her. She certainly didn’t blush. Her big brown melt-my-heart eyes looked a deeper brown then ever and she didn’t bark for 24 hours. Now, which of those, if either, is a blush?


  2. Awww, a whole chicken? Opened the fridge? Wow! Oh, and Van, I have a Zipper. She digs in her water bowl like it is the most fun EVER! She’s a real tomboy.


  3. Posted by Robin South on June 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    If a dog could write a blog would he write the exact same observations and analysis about people?


  4. Posted by betty on June 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Yep ! They do know when they are out of bounds…..Whiskers hides behind Dennis’ chair. So I know to look for a mess, somewhere, and usually find it.


  5. Posted by Terri Rowan on June 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Loved it Van as always! I am a dog person myself. They are a friend at all times no matter our state of mind. Love my dawgs!


  6. Great as always…Got a kitty now and is she a messssss!


  7. As a dawg psychologist, I can tell you that they are devious creatures. I once house sat for a friend who owned a huge Great Dane. Came in for work and the Dane was in the comfortable recliner. Didn’t try and force him out so I went to the sliding glass door and said excitedly “Look, there’s a cat”. The Dane rushed to the glass door to see the cat as I sat in the big chair, feeling quite proud of my intelligent self.
    Couple of days later I was sitting in the chair and the Dane came into the room, went to the sliding glass door and began to park. Of course I went to the door to see what he was barking at. When I turned around the Dane was up in the chair.
    Lesson learned: don’t match wits with a dawg, unless of course it is Beau


  8. Posted by Marlene Humberd on June 9, 2012 at 1:20 am

    Van , just gotta love them dawgs ! Seems like there’s quite a few around with unusual talents from readin’ the posts . Think I might be scart of one who opens the fridge and eats a whole chickin, however .lol Miss Snoops , our beagle , was quite good with the eye diversion tactic . After spending her first 5 years in a frat house , she was very talented in making pizza and beer disappear quicker than David Copperfield could wave a wand . Then she would sit with head turned away until you called her name . Slowly she’d roll her eyes up and look you directly in the eye . I could just hear her a sayin’ … ” you talkin’ to me ?” ; ) Thanks again …


  9. I had dogs all while growing up and I remember nearly all of them howled when fire engines went by. Some ran and hid but most yowled along with the sirens! One of my dogs was a beagle named Dolly who had the entire run of the house until my mother found out why the dog was so eager to be in the kitchen during dinnertime with my brother and I. I hated vegetables so when my mother went out from the kitchen I put my plate on the floor and Dolly cleaned it right up. This plate cleaning effort–vegetable avoiding plan went swimmingly until one dinnertime my Mom came in the kitchen saw Dolly licking her chops and put 2 + 2 together. Dolly was ever after banned from the kitchen. Alas, the best made plans of little girls and puppies are brought to an end by observant Mommies!
    My cat Sylvester has some dog like qualities. When I throw his favorite toy, a little pink mouse, he will run after it and retrieve the mousie insisting I continue with the game. One thing I’ve noticed about both cats, Sylvester & Weezer is that they will eat only the chicken or fish on my plate, if I leave said plate unattended. Two Sundays ago Weezer waited until my attention was focused on the computer and swiped some of my Popeye’s chicken! One major distinction between the two cats is that Sylvester will chase, catch and eat any bugs that get into my apartment; excluding water bugs, they are way too large to eat; Weezer will just watch the insects fly or crawl by making absolutely no effort to destroy them! Weezer loves any visitors to my home and will snuggle with any people who walk through the door, even the maintenance guys! I discourage this since most of them are not cat people. Sylvester, however is anti-social with the rest of my family except me. Sylvester feels that I’m his personal property and once I lay down in my bed glues himself to me and follows me all around my humble 1 bedroom apartment.


  10. Posted by Bonnie on June 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    i think Lila is pretty smart and was just playing dumb!


    • Posted by thevanbrown on July 2, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      Bonnie, I usually reply privately, but to this I must say Lila Bea is D.U.M.B. smart.


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