Smart Dogs, Dumb Dogs

Occasionally you’ll hear someone talk about how smart their dog is.  The Brown Bear, for example, will rave about the intellectual abilities of standard poodles.  The Soccer Goalie will brook no argument that border collies are the smartest breed around.  And Russell argues that his dog Betty, who is not a purebred, is as quick-witted as they come.

hvrzriwAs for us — well, our Lab Dusty was well trained and seemed reasonably bright, and Kasey, our poodle, was clever.  Our Lab Penny?  Well, she was generally amiable if sometimes stubborn, and always hungry.

Those of you who are convinced your dog is the next animal Einstein might be disappointed to learn the results of a study published recently in Learning and Behavior.  It determined that “[t]here is no current case for canine exceptionalism” and, in reality, dogs are pretty ordinary compared to other “carnivores, domestic animals, and social hunters” like wolves, chimpanzees, and cats.  What’s more, dogs aren’t at the top of the charts when it comes to sensing human emotions.  The article linked above notes:

“Even more surprising, dogs do not appear to be exceptional in their ability to perceive and use communicative signals from humans. According to the domestication hypothesis, dogs have been bred to be especially sensitive to human cues such as hand signals. As Lea and Osthaus note, dogs can indeed use human cues. However, contrary to the domestication hypothesis, they are far from unique in this ability. For example, the reigning champions of the ability to follow human hand signals are the bottlenose dolphin and the grey seal.”

So why does everybody other than Lab owners think their dog is intellectually gifted?  It’s called the Lake Woebegon Effect.  Everybody thinks that they — and their pets, too — are above average.  The article notes:  “In a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, researchers had 137 pet owners rate both their own pet and the average pet on a range of traits, including intelligence. The results revealed that the people rated their pets as above average on desirable traits and below average on undesirable traits.”

So, in all likelihood your dog isn’t a wunderkind.  So what?  They’re good company, they willingly will sport funny hats, and scientific studies also show that people who have dogs may enjoy health benefits from the companionship they provide.  Our canine pals may not be geniuses, but they’re good to have around.

Nights Without Snoring

The other night we were driving home when Kish turned to me and said, with a real note of sadness in her voice:  “I miss Kasey.”

img_6225I knew exactly what she meant.  It’s been a month since our little beagle mix has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and it’s an ongoing adjustment.

We still regularly encounter little signs of our departed friend.  Take, for example, the nights without snoring.  Kasey was a big-time snorer who could saw logs with the best of them.  For a small dog, she produced considerable volume.  It took a while to get used to it when she first joined the family, but after we adjusted to Kasey’s sleep sounds they just became part of the expected background noise.  These days, the nights in our household seem awfully quiet.

There are other reminders, too.  We’ve kept one of Kasey’s dog bowls, so Russell’s dog Betty can use it when they visit.  Kasey’s winter coat still rests on one of the shelves of the pantry.  It’s too small for Betty, but it doesn’t feel quite right, yet, to throw it out or give it away.  When we go out into our tiny back yard, we still reflexively look before we step, even though we’ve long since removed every last one of Kasey’s tootsie rolls.  And, from time to time, we’ll still expect to hear that hoarse bark and thumping tail when we open the front door.

After Kasey’s passing, we’ve decided not to get a new dog for a lot of different reasons. I’m glad, though, that there are still these little, bittersweet reminders of our friend, which seem to be easing our transition into a pooch-free household.

A Big Hole In The Household

IMG_0575We lost our little pal Kasey today.  For six years, she has been a huge part of our family.  Now she is gone, leaving a big hole in our household, and an even bigger hole in our hearts.

We inherited Kasey from Kish’s Mom.  Kasey was a rescue dog that Kish and her siblings found at the Erie County Humane Society to serve as a companion for Kish’s Mom, who had just lost her dog and was dealing with her final illness.  It was a match made in heaven.  Kasey was perfectly suited for that role, and Kish’s Mom delighted in her company.  When Kish’s Mom passed, we added Kasey to our household.

Kasey immediately made an impact.  Even though she was much smaller than our other dog, Penny, who was a large, lumbering lab, Kasey immediately assumed the position of lead dog in the Webner pack.  And yet, her small size and big eyes inevitably caused Kish to pick her up, deposit her in Kish’s lap, and manipulate her paws to wave goodbye or do some hand jive or engage in other antics that made us laugh.  Kasey endured this terrible indignity with good humor and a perfectly deadpan expression that made us laugh even more.  From time to time she would puff out her cheeks in what we interpreted as a clear sign that her patience was wearing thin.  It was just one tiny, but memorable, example of her very distinctive personality.

When Kasey left the lap and got to be a real dog again, as when we took her on walks, she fearlessly strutted through the neighborhood as if she owned the place, barking at dogs 10 times her size with a raspy woof that one dog-sitter called a smoker’s bark.  She wasn’t a biter, but she wasn’t afraid to mix it up with any other member of the canine species, either.  When she first joined the family, as shown in the picture above, the brown in her coat was dark, and she was full of spunk and energy.  She stayed that way for years, as if she was somehow immune to the ravages of time.

Because she was a rescue dog, we never knew precisely how old Kasey was, although we think she reached the ripe age of 17 — which is pretty darned old in “dog years.” Gradually her coat got whiter and whiter.  It became too painful for her to put weight on her back leg, cancerous growths broke out on her face, and her eyes got rheumy and her hearing failed.  Her sleeping increased until she was dozing 23 hours a day, and she was losing all semblance of bowel control, besides.  As the end neared, she was more like a stuffed animal than a living creature.  Her appetite declined, and when it got to the point when she wouldn’t even bark for a piece of meat I was having for a meal, we knew the time had come.

If you have a dog in the family, you’ll know how difficult the decision is, and what a mixture of emotions it provokes — sadness at losing a great friend and companion, relief that their period of suffering is finally over, and hope that, somewhere, your dog is out romping on a grassy field, running without pain under a sunny, bright blue sky.  That’s what we’re feeling about Kasey.  We’ll never forget her.

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Russell’s dog Betty has been staying with us for a few weeks while Russell gets some work done on his builling.  Betty — who is known to Kish and me as Betty Boop or, in abbreviated form, Betty Boo — is making herself at home, as dogs always do, and there couldn’t be more of a contrast between the youthful Betty and the aging Kasey, who likes nothing so much as good morning, afternoon, and evening naps.  Betty is pretty much the exact opposite, and the difference between the two moved me to write some bad verse:

Much Ado ‘Bout Betty Boo

Damp tennis balls found in the halls,

A tattered sock and battered shoe.

These all, we know, are telltale signs

of Betty, Betty Boo.

Kasey wants to sleep so deep.

But things to rip, or tear, or chew

Are the very favorite things

Of Betty, Betty Boo.

She’s still a pup, and not grown up

With more energy than me or you;

A whirlwind of devilish play

Is Betty, Betty Boo.

It’s time to walk, no time to talk,

Then we’ll play fetch anew.

But she’ll never tire, no matter what

Will Betty, Betty Boo. 

 

Two Dog Night

We’re keeping an eye on Russell’s pooch Betty while Russell does some work on his new building and business. It’s interesting having two dogs in the house after a few years as a one-canine concern. Betty has a sweet disposition but is a bundle of energy compared to Kasey, who’s quite content to snooze the day away. But the dogs get along, and so do we. In fact, it seems like having dogs of different ages is a positive, and they kind of complement each other.

Now, I just need to get my tennis ball tossing arm back into shape.

The Random Restaurant Tour (IX)

Yesterday Kish and I met for lunch. We try to get together for lunch about once a week, where we can eat in peace and talk without an aging dog hoarsely barking at us to give her people food. We try to pick a spot somewhere between home and the office, and we’re always game for something new.

Yesterday we checked out the Blind Lady Tavern on Mound Street. It was a bitterly cold day, with a sharp wind that chilled to the bone. It felt good to finally reach the Blind Lady, which has a warm, welcoming ambiance complete with a cool pressed tin ceiling and a single room shared by the bar and lots of wooden tables.

After my walk through the arctic wind tunnel, I decided to warm up with the fried chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich was excellent, with fried chicken that was crunchy but moist, with a nice sauce and tasty coating that wasn’t overly breaded. I also want to commend the chips, which looked to be homemade and were crisp and blessedly not over-salted. I left nothing behind. And because I knew I would be venturing back out into the brutal chill, I decided to end the meal with a cup of very good coffee that was served piping hot in a huge cup that was just begging for a shot of cream. All in all, it was a completely satisfying meal. Kish got the blackened fish sandwich with an enormous pile of greens and also said her food was very good.

According to our pleasant waitress, the Blind Lady — the name of which refers to the blindfolded depiction of Justice, in deference to the nearby Franklin County courthouses — has been around for two years, in a building that has housed the Jury Room lounge and other courthouse-related spots. We can attest that it is now a first-rate place to have a beagle-free lunch.

The Sausage Test

We’re not exactly sure how old Kasey is. She’s a rescue dog, and her records have long since been lost in the mists of time. The vet recently looked at her teeth — what’s left of them, that is — and concluded she’s anywhere from 14 to 16 years old.

So, naturally, we look for tangible signs of advanced canine age. Kasey’s teeth issues and horrendous breath are one sign, and the arthritis in one of her rear legs and her general gimpiness is another. But the real acid test is sense of smell and appetite. We figure that if Kasey doesn’t react to fragrant cooked meats — like sausage, bacon, or brats — that’s a very telltale sign.

So I’m pleased to report that Kasey reacted to this morning’s sausage test with a scampering visit to the kitchen, hearty barks that quickly became annoying, and rapid, gobbled consumption of some sausage bits when we just couldn’t stand the barking any longer.

Our aging pooch still has some kick!

Assessing A Robot Dog

What’s in a dog?  Why do humans really want to have them around?  I think different people would give different answers to those basic questions, and the different answers might just tell us whether a newly unveiled robot dog could become a successful product.

landscape-1510610204-screen-shot-2017-11-13-at-45550-pmThe robot dog is built by a company called Boston Dynamics and it’s supposed to be coming soon.  It’s called the SpotMini.  SpotMini’s inventors obviously weren’t trying to build something that looks as much like a dog as modern technology, materials, and design will allow — the robot is bright yellow and black, has no fur, and has a concave, camera-like gizmo instead of a head.   It’s a robot that clearly looks like a robot.  And yet, aside from the use of “Spot” in its name, the SpotMini does have dog-like attributes.  It’s got four legs, which are shaped a lot like dog legs, and it walks and prances in dog-like fashion.  I’m guessing that it barks, too.

So why do you have a dog?  For us, it’s companionship:  even though Kasey is slowing down, she’s still got a funny, unique personality that we’ve grown to love, and of course Kish enjoys putting Kasey on her lap and stroking her soft fur and making Kasey do embarrassingly undog-like things like wave her paw in greeting when I come in the front door after work.  Kasey’s a member of the family, and we get a real kick out of her.  It’s hard to imagine a yellow and black plastic and metal box with four legs replacing her, even if the SpotMini were programmed to have a personality.

But if your primary purpose in having a dog is security, the SpotMini just might do the trick.  If the robot can detect intruders and bark like crazy to wake up its owners, and then confront the intruders and freak them out when a black and yellow torpedo comes charging at them, barking all the while, you just might have a successful product.  And if the SpotMini.2 version has robot jaws that can chomp down on the right people, it might be even more successful.  I could see people buying a security dog that doesn’t need to be fed or walked or cleaned up after, or boarded when they go on vacation, or taken to the vet and prescribed pricey medication.

In the next few years, we’re going to be seeing more and more of the robot invasion of our daily lives, and it will be interesting to see how people, and social activities generally, adapt to the coming changes.  The SpotMini might just give us a peek at our yellow-and-black robot future.

Dog Food In The Morning

Dog owners make a lot of sacrifices for their beloved pooches.  One of the sacrifices is grimly olfactory in nature:  having to prepare dog food first thing in the morning.

Kish is on the road today, so preparation of Kaseycuisine falls to me by default.  That means that, rather than having my senses gradually stimulated to full awareness after a night of blissful slumber by the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the crisp taste of orange juice, I’m assaulted by the sights, sounds, and smells of Kasey’s specially prepared chow.  The special digestive care prescription diet canned food that falls into the bowl with a wet, sucking, disgusting, odiferous plop.  The Beneful IncrediBites dry food (made with real chicken, according to the bag) that must be spooned out, moistened with water, and stirred into a kind of stew because Old Kase is down to about one tooth in the dental category and needs food that can be safely gummed into submission.  And of course the food must be presented in fresh, clean bowls for our little princess, which means a key part of the assault on the senses is cleaning and washing the bowls from last night’s feast, which inevitably have minced food cemented to every inch of exposed surface by the epoxy-like qualities of dog saliva.

The gag-inducing food is thoughtfully prepared and tastefully presented, none of which makes a difference to Kasey when she finally decides to eat and gulps down her food with reckless, lip-smacking abandon.  But after my exposure to dog food in the wee hours, I’m ready for a walk and some fresh air.

Kasey’s Spot

Kasey has lots of accustomed spots in our house, but this location in the front room, where the morning sun shining through some stained glass leaves the room dappled with light, is a particular favorite.

Call me crazy, but in these weird and disturbing times there’s something reassuring about seeing a dog napping peacefully on a couch.

The Secret Inner Life Of Dogs

We boarded Kasey while we were on our recent trip to Maine.  

We put her up in a really nice place, staffed by bubbly, outgoing  young women, where Kasey and the other canine guests all have their own reasonably roomy spaces with their own chairs, beds, and water and dog food bowls.  The spaces aren’t crates, but are more like little individual rooms that are open to the ceiling.  Kasey gets walked and fed regularly, the young dog-loving employees enthusiastically track her bowel movements in a daily report, and we even pay extra for special TLC time.  As dog boarding options go, it’s a nice one.

And yet when we return home after one of these trips to pick up Kasey, inevitably her bark has turned into more of a squeak and she seems utterly exhausted.  We should all wish to be able to experience the deep, total slumber that Kasey immediately falls into the instant we get home and she finds a sunny spot in the yard.  Either Kasey and her canine comrades are out partying until late at night, adopting the “what happens at the boarder stays at the boarder” mentality, or she just hasn’t slept much because she misses her special warm spot in the sun — and perhaps also misses Kish and me and the sense of security and routine that Kasey associates with us.

Most people tend to think of dogs as simple creatures, lacking much in the way of emotional complexity.  I think the reality is a lot more nuanced.  Outwardly, dogs might come across as panting, napping, pooping, bright-eyed simpletons, but down deep they may be a rich stew of angst whenever they’re taken from their comfort zones.  And when a pooch is a rescue dog, as Kasey was, you wonder if every boarding experience calls up unpleasant memories of the past.

Perhaps we’re projecting and feeling unnecessary guilt about our trips, and Kasey’s outward hoarseness and apparent fatigue are simply due to a stay in a place where dogs are barking a lot and it’s hard to sleep because there are lots of strange dogs, and strange dog smells, in every direction.  But what pet owner doesn’t like to think there’s a reservoir of deeper feelings lurking behind that doggy exterior?

Raw Onion

Kish is out of town, which means I don’t have to worry about mortally offending her with my breath and can indulge one of my favorite summer food combinations:  grilled cheeseburgers with raw onion — lots of raw onion.  I love the tang of the onion, which goes perfectly with grilled meat and cheese, and the crunch of a raw onion has a pleasant quality, too.

I know my breath stinks after such a feast, but there’s no one here but Kasey, and her breath is worse than mine.  I hereby pledge to brush my teeth well before encountering another human being.

Morning Walks With Kasey

The last few days I’ve been responsible for walking Kasey in the morning.  We’ve got a routine going:  she sleeps in while I take my lap around Schiller Park, she barks angrily when I return, she waits impatiently while I shower and dress, and then we set out toward Frank Fetch Park.  On the walk, Kasey smells everything there is for a dog to smell — namely, everything — and along the way she answers the call of nature multiple times, leaving it for her trusted aide to clean up after her.

Some might argue that picking up after your dog helps prepare a lawyer for the work day ahead.