My niece has two dogs, Ruby and Razzle. They are both rescued dogs, having been adopted several months apart from the humane society as puppies. Niece and her husband are a young couple with no children, so R and R are like their kids, cared for diligently and melded into their family. When niece and husband are home, R and R are in the house with them, much like Chili is with me.
Niece reports a puzzlement about her dogs: when she and husband are watching television and a doorbell rings on the screen, both dogs instantly jump up and rush to the front door, barking raucously and clearly expecting some stranger to appear.
Now, I know that this is a common occurrence. My Chili, too, will sometimes respond to the doorbell rings on television. But here’s the kicker about Ruby and Razzle: They were adopted as small puppies from different litters, some months apart. They have lived their whole lives, save a few first weeks, with niece—who has NEVER had a doorbell.
No, Ruby and Razzle have never actually experienced a doorbell ringing in the home and a stranger appearing at the door. The only doorbell ringing they have ever heard has been on television.
What do you think? Did R and R pick this up from watching TV? Did they reason that if the TV folks have people appear at the front door when the bell rings, the same could happen at their front door?
Sometimes I think dogs know more than we give them credit for. I know my own dogs have always become very attuned to patterns in our lives.
When I had horses, my Shelties used to consider it their very serious “job” to accompany me to do the feeding. They loved the specific duty of feeding time, for Shelties are working dogs and do love to have a job to do. This picture is not my Sheltie, but it’s what mine were bred to do. I just know they would have relished this kind of work.
So, come feeding time each day, the Shelties were especially attentive and, when I would move to the door, they would scramble to go with me, beating me to the door and running ahead to the feed barrels. They would bark and bully my horses each feeding time—keeping the herd in line! There were a few times when I would get out there and realize that Gus and Scout were in the fenced back yard, having been forgotten by me. They would see me through the fence and both bark urgently, clearly horrified at the thought of missing out on doing their job. It was so bad that when this happened, I did not have the heart to carry on without them and would trudge back to let them out to join in the work.
During the day when it wasn’t feeding time at all, if I pulled on my muck boots or my barn coat, the Shelties were off like a flash to the barn, reading my signs of barn duty even off hours. They clearly understood the phrase, “feed the horses,” and would respond to it even when I was addressing another person and not them…eavesdropping, as it were.
My current dog, Chili, has a routine: he stays outside during the day while I’m at work except as MIL lets him in at her house. When I come home each evening, he comes into the house with me and stays through the night. He has a bed on the floor in my bedroom.
When I watch television, relaxing after work each evening, he naps on the floor by my chair, heading for bed as I do. I can say, “Well, it’s time for bed,” and off he’ll go to the bedroom even before I move.
Last Saturday I worked all day at the office and then swung by to spend a couple of hours with my mother. Mom and I ended up going out for dinner, so I was after eight o’clock getting home (I am such an early bird…this is approaching my bedtime!).
When I got home, I turned the television on, captivated by Tsunami footage. Next thing I knew, I was being awakened by Chili’s emphatic pushing at my hand. It was 11:30! (Unheard of for me!). I had fallen asleep in the chair. Chili was push, push, pushing at my hand with his nose.
Thinking he was so insistent because he needed to go out, I started to get up, expecting to turn to the right to go the the door, but no, that’s not what he had in mind. Instead, he headed left toward the bedroom, pausing at the hallway to glance over his shoulder as if to say, “Time for bed, silly.”
Clearly, Chili needed to hit the hay and wanted me in the bed, too. When I turned off lights and came to the room, I found him already curled up and headed for la-la land.
And, of course, he has an English vocabulary that exceeds just “Sit,” “Stay,” and “Bed.” We have to spell T-R-E-A-T or he runs expectantly to the T-R-E-A-T cabinet (same was true of Scout). We had a poodle once who eventually learned to actually spell B-A-T-H. We could neither say nor spell that word if we were intending on bathing him, for he would disappear in the house somewhere, and it might take an hour to find him.
I know, beyond doubt, that I anthropomorphize about my animals, but I really do believe they have a deeper understanding of things than we sometimes think.
And that thing about Ruby and Razzle and the television doorbell: well, it’s really got me thinking! C