THIS SIDE UP

What canine eyes can communicate

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 1/7/21

His eyes were wide, unblinking, staring. I tried reading them. What was Ollie trying to say? They weren't the eyes that intently watch from beside me at the dinner table as long as I haven't finished eating, in which case he moves to Carol's side of the

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THIS SIDE UP

What canine eyes can communicate

Posted

His eyes were wide, unblinking, staring.

I tried reading them. What was Ollie trying to say? They weren’t the eyes that intently watch from beside me at the dinner table as long as I haven’t finished eating, in which case he moves to Carol’s side of the table and watches her. That message can’t be mistaken, especially when punctuated with stands of drool.

“Stop begging.” The words can’t shame him. He remains fixated, eyes following every move from plate to mouth. But I have food and that can be a motivator. I raise a morsel of chicken. His gaze locks on it. I have his attention.

“Sit.”

Without blinking, he sits. I then tell him to lie down.

Carol protests. “Oh, just give it to him.” Ollie lies down, his front legs stretched in front of him and his rear legs tucked under his body. He is Sphinx-like and motionless. I give him the piece of chicken and instantly he’s up, hopeful I’ll repeat the process.

This time without holding an enticement, I tell him to sit. I can tell he’s waiting for me to hold something up. His nose quivers. There’s no reward, yet without diverting his eyes, he sits.

Maybe, I’m thinking, I can train Ollie to lie down whenever we’re at the table. That’s the thought, anyway. I motion downward with my hand. Remarkably, he follows the command far faster than had I told him to do so. I’m impressed. He strikes the Egyptian pose. He’s on full alert. This is surely better than having him standing and drooling. But it doesn’t last. In less than a minute, he’s back on his feet. I repeat the commands until finally I’m tired of it and he gets his reward.

We’ve gained something, however. As basic as it may be, we’re communicating. Food is the medium.

We weren’t at the dinner table on New Year’s Day afternoon. We had just come in from a long walk. He’d strained at the leash, anxious to keep a vigorous pace until he picked up a scent and then he stopped to sniff and circle the area. Then it was on to the next stop. He was leading me and that was fine, although there was no knowing what had him so intrigued.

We left the trail flaked with snow and joined the dirt road bordered by small mounds of snow, remnants from the pre-Christmas storm. Portions of the road were glazed with ice. Ollie and I stayed to the side where the plow had kicked up gravel and there was sure footing.

Movement in the woods caught my eye. Ollie saw it, too. We stopped. A gray fox, no more than 100 feet ahead in two bounds, its bushy tail outstretched, cleared the road and disappeared into the woods. Ollie pulled on the leash. I knew the command. I obeyed, stopping at the point where the fox had crossed. Ollie stood motionless looking into the woods and then investigated the area, his nose digging into the crusty snow.

When we got back, I sat to unlace my boots. Ollie went to his water bowl and returned to stare at me. His eyes didn’t leave mine. What could he want?

“Pullie,” I declared in an excited voice. He didn’t search for his favorite toy and a game of tug of war.

“Sit.” Ollie didn’t change posture. Could he want to go out again? Was this disappointment to see me removing my boots?

I reached out. Ollie advanced so I could stroke his ears.

He borrowed his head into my elbow.

Yes, I agreed with him, it had been a good way to start the New Year.

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