Editor’s Desk

Column: Wishing this foreign language had been taught in school

Raleigh News & ObserverFebruary 28, 2014 

Don’t you wish you could speak dog?

Our dog talks to us all the time. Sometimes it’s cute. Most of the time, though, it gets a little frustrating. He doesn’t have an inside voice. And he doesn’t get that you’re not supposed to interrupt when other people are talking, And he doesn’t get that you should only try to carry on a conversation during the commercials.

Our dog is bilingual. He talks this “WOOF, WOOF” language pretty regularly. It’s loud and obnoxious and every word sounds like every other word. He has a remarkable whine that he uses when he wants part of our food or when he wants to get out of a room that he’s closed up in. Those whines can sound either pitiful or insistent depending on the circumstances. But he also speaks body language. He knows where his leash is and he has a habit of following you into that room every night about 9 with his tail whipping back and forth like a sickle in a field. He jumps up with his front paws on the table and peers into the copper kettle where the leash is and then turns his head to look at me.

I understand that language. Roughly translated, he’s saying something like this: “Dude, let’s go. I’ve been in this house all day and if you don’t take me outside so I can sniff some mailboxes and pee on some bushes, I’m gonna start talking in my loud dog voice. And, I know you don’t want that!”

I’m cool with the language I can understand. It’s the language I don’t understand that drives me bonkers. I was told before my first child was born that I would understand the difference in their cries – which ones meant “feed me” and which ones meant “get me outta this nasty diaper.”

But the truth is, all their cries sounded the same to me – like crying. It’s the same with the dog. All his barks sound the same, whether he’s barking for attention or barking at someone walking on his street without his permission. And, buddy, let me tell you, there’s no Code Breaker in the world that can decipher some of his random barks.

My wife is a big fan of the Dog-Whisperer, the guy on TV who masterfully trains dogs to be perfectly docile in 30 minutes (minus commercials). I think she looks down at me a little bit because I’m not as talented as the Dog Whisperer. When I try to whisper at my dog, he just licks my chin. Then he barks at me.

I am starting to develop a checklis of things that pacify the dog when he gets into his loud voice mode. First, we try to distract him with a ball or a chew toy. If he’s not interested in that, I pet him. That often satisfies him, for about five minutes or so before he tires of having the same six inches of his neck and head rubbed. If that doesn’t work, we take a quick trip outside where he can bark his fool head off. We leave him outside until we feel guilty for bothering the neighbors.

But all these solutions make me realize the dog is my master and not the other way around. That frustrates me to the point where I fuss at the dog. Well, lemme tell you: that don’t work! He slinks away for a few seconds, then he bounds right back in the room, having forgotten completely that I was upset with him a few minutes earlier. He barks. I think he’s saying: “I’m back. Look at me!”

But I’m just not sure. I can’t speak dog.

 

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