White Picket Fence

There is a belief among some dog owners, that dogs can understand language. That words like WALK need to be spelled out, one letter at a time: W.A.L.K. to prevent hyper-intelligent dogs from misinterpreting a random noun as an invitation to get ready to go.

I have two dogs: one who is whip smart, and who does seem to be able to connect words to actions. Her name is Lucy and she is a Jack Russell cross.

The other is Archie. He really does not understand that he has no clue. He will look at you as the word is uttered, but no recognition will flicker across his eyes, just a vague look of hope that a biscuit might be on the way.

So when I mention the W word -WALK, Lucy will spring into action, jumping down off her couch, or leaping up from the floor. She will begin to pant and follow me around the house. It also works if I mention the CAR or the name of the apartment block where my parents live, which we visit regularly.

Even if I look Archie directly in the face and ask him if he wants to go for a walk, the only thing that really gives him a clue that it is on, is when I appear with his harness in my hand, which prompts him to hide under furniture or open the fly screen with his nose and get outside away from THAT THING.

What Archie does understand, though, is behavioural cues, which he has picked up from Lucy, who years ago twigged that before I leave the house for a walk, I will go to the loo. Thus, any attempt to empty my bladder will result in a guard of honour waiting outside the bathroom door on the off-chance that it will be followed by an invitation to walk.

Lucy, ever the smart dog, keen to go for a walk, has extrapolated even further and made the connection with having a shower and leaving the house, largely due to my husband, who will not leave the house in the morning without having a shower, as opposed to me. I shower in the evening, usually, so generally head straight to bed after I have washed.

Nevertheless, as I stand in the shower a small white figure will appear and station herself on the bathroom mat outside the shower door. A solitary white picket, preventing me from passing through without her knowledge and without stopping to remind me that if I am going to the park, not to forget her.

As if I would forget you, Lucy.

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