How I think dogs think


So, Roo spent the last three months feeling bad. It's still hard to say how it started, because what eventually looked like allergies (but may or may not be) started during spates of bitter cold when there weren't any allergens in the air. Regardless, Roo slowed down, though it would be fair to say that at first, it was the cold that slowed her down. First she developed a painful sore and skin problems. She put on weight. She limped. She slowed down.

Now, I don't enjoy seeing Roo catch prey, but that's because I'm just a softie. Being a predator is who she is. It's what she does. It's all she thinks about. Maybe if it was just the ebb and flow of the seasons and the paucity of anyone to hunt when the mouses were all out of reach in frozen ground, it would have fit naturally into her predator's sense of her natural environment. Maybe that would have been more emotionally manageable for her. But once she was back where there were mouses to catch, but, having slowed down, she wasn't catching any, I think it began to have an effect on her.

I'm not saying that dogs sit around the way we do and think, "Oh, my God — my back! I'm getting old." But I do think that they have a fine sense of who they are and what they do, and it wouldn't surprise me if nature equipped them with a different, and possibly superior, type of self-awareness. I think that Roo began to feel her identity slip away. I think she felt less able to fulfill what she saw as her duty to herself and her pack, to be a reliable hunter.

It eroded her mood. She became less enthusiastic about going out for walks, almost as if she didn't expect them to work out. It seemed like more than that she wasn't feeling well. It seemed like she was beginning to view life differently. 

But she has been feeling a little better every day, and once or twice she started running around again like a mad dog. She got the idea that there might be tadmouses in a pond, and that revived her interest. Then, yesterday, she found the carcass of a dead squirrel. 

She was about 300 feet away when she found the squirrel. I saw her pop out of some tall grass and start running towards me. When she got a little closer I saw the old look on her face. The look of pride a dog has when they want you to notice an achievement. She slowed to a trot, and then to a walk when she was close. She walked the squirrel right past me.

"You are the biggest, best bear of the whole world, Chig," I said. She liked hearing it. She added one graceful wag to her wolflike gait as she passed. Dogs, by the way, are just as pleased by successful scavenging as they are by hunting. The activity of hunting is more entertaining, but they enjoy a feeling of success from scavenging that comes close.

Later, we had to drive somewhere. In the car, Roo was even more demanding of attention than she usually is when we drive. She always bats me with her paw when we drive. It can drive you a little nuts sometimes. Not knowing how to drive, she doesn't see any problem with having to drive a truck with a trailer in tow on curvy roads while scratching her ears with one hand. But of course I end up doing it.

When the road became too curvy and I needed both hands on the wheel, she stopped me by scooting closer and pressing her head down on my arm and shutting her eyes, as if to say, "Whoops — you can't move now, I'm fast asleep on this arm here. Too late."

And I think it was because she was feeling better about herself.

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