We cared for a Labrador named Annie for twelve years. I still care, of course, and have her photo on the wall and sweet memories of her shiny coat and quirky habits. Other large dogs I’ve known shared her terror of thunder and would wedge themselves under beds and tables when the booming was about to start. Annie and Max were both excellent Dog Barometers. Whenever the weather was shifting toward low pressure, they would shiver and get low to the ground. If Max was worried, I knew I needed to take my umbrella and skip the suede boots.

I don’t have the same signals from Tofu. He only gets worked up about fireworks. Perhaps it’s just because he’s young and his tiny hips aren’t tuned into the arthritis channel yet. He doesn’t care about the rain and will only bark at the wind when it deserves it. Still, I am recognizing that he is an excellent Dog Barometer of a different kind.

Somewhere I read that a dog’s dislike of a new person is a reaction to their humans’ distrust of the other person rather than the dog’s judgement. It makes sense to me. While the dog is easily able to predict the weather and has nothing better to do than cue in on body language, we are likely to excuse or ignore all the same information because people are crazy. It’s really the only explanation that makes sense, because I have seen dogs go gaga over objectively terribly behaved people and it seems essential to their nature that dogs love everyone. So, yeah, if they know what we know and don’t know we know about a person, we should listen to the dog. Simple.

Most recently, I have discovered a third type of Dog Barometer, which is basically the Canine Mood Ring. With what feels like long-belabored and embarrassing detail, I have covered my struggles with emotional idiocy–my own emotional idiocy, that is, not the population-wide kind of emotional idiocy we’re all basking in most of the time. Maybe it’s not that bad, but it’s probably worse.

Anyhoo, I’ll dig it up one more time for any new victims here. Without delving too far into my personal psychology (like I can!) I have learned that I am mostly oblivious about my own emotions and have been for a long time. At any given time of day, any any random circumstance, if anyone asks me what I am feeling, I freeze and grapple to come back with first-grade words: hungry, tired, sad, potty time, etc.

Don’t try to tell me that hungry is not an emotion. I know that. Hungry is the one-size-fits-all dress-up version that most other emotions can use for parties. Sometimes Lonely puts on the Hungry suit or has to evict Frustrated first and then put on the Hungry suit. It’s a work in progress and even more embarrassing is the admission that I have been at this in my spare time for years.

The dog has been a big help and he has no idea what he brings to the emotional kindergarten party. Now, when I am talking to him, I realize he is like my furry Rorschach quiz. One recent morning I said, “See you later, little traitor!” and shocked myself. Tofu doesn’t deserve that, even if he did eat another tiny candle. I was annoyed about something silly and because it was silly I was trying to ignore it and get on with another round of the work day hustle.

Barring imminent danger, the dog is never the problem. The dog is just a dog. Our reactions to the dog tell a vivid story, and that story is all about us.

I have resolved to talk to the dog more. He won’t mind. I’m pretty sure.


p.s. Lest we all forget, there’s a book!! It has at least one dog!!


Pet Definition, LLC

What makes an animal a pet? A pet is an animal that doesn’t taste good and cannot manage doors. Boo can now do doors, so I guess I’m just her servant now.


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