Learning to bark

FI-Joe-PisaniI’ve always wanted to learn a new language, perhaps something like Arabic, Chinese or ancient Greek to keep my middle-aged brain from petrifying.

So in the interests of staying mentally alert, I recently bought a book titled How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication.

While it’s not the same as learning Hungarian, dog talk has countless benefits. Chatting with a canine, for instance, can be more pleasant than chatting with, say, Lindsay Lohan or your resident teenager. Dogs are willing to converse on a variety of topics, including politics, sex and religion, although they probably prefer to spend their time sniffing other dogs because their olfactory skills are better than their language skills.

Dogs won’t yell at you, dogs won’t insult you and dogs are always happy to hear what you have to say even if they disagree. They’ll wag their tails in approval and pretend they appreciate your opinion on sensitive issues like health-care reform, which is more than I can say for my wife and kids.

Canine expert Stanley Coren believes most dogs have the vocabulary of a two-year-old child, although some breeds, such as border collies, can learn as many words as a four-year-old.

Dogs communicate through a limited vocabulary. As far as I can tell, there’s woof, arf, grrrr and an occasional howl like ooowwwllllll, which proves that dogs can express a lot of ideas and emotions with a very basic vocabulary. Plus they don’t have to worry about conjugations and declensions.

Because of this I’m convinced my dog understands what I’m saying. She’ll cock her head to the side and stare at me intently when I ask, “Do you think Hillary Clinton will get the Democratic presidential nomination?” (She barks once, which means “yes.”)

“Should I buy Apple stock?” (She barks twice, which means “no.”)

“Are you in favor of the immigration bill?” (She barks insanely, which either means, “Of course! I’m part Chinese and Maltese!” or “No! There are already too many dogs in America!”)

“Have you been using my American Express card?” (No response)

And after that question, she puts her tail between her legs and hides under the bed, which tells me all I need to know. After all, who else would have charged $87.65 at Petco to buy rawhide and toys?

She and I have many meaningful conversations. Every night during dinner she looks up at me and starts barking excitedly.

“What is it, Bella?” I ask. “Are alien invaders approaching? Should I buy IBM instead of Apple?”

At which point, my wife replies, “She wants her ice cream.”

How could I forget? After dinner, she gets a tablespoon of vanilla soft serve, which she laps up vigorously before proceeding to eat her dog food. It’s a strange habit that reminds me of my daughters, who always wanted to eat dessert before the main course.

The other day, she rushed to my gym bag and started scratching.

“What is it, girl?” I asked. “Do you want to go to Planet Fitness and work out on the treadmill? Those are my gym clothes — you have your own.”

She kept barking until I finally opened the bag, which smelled like the New York Knicks locker room, and she started sniffing the shorts and T-shirts until she found what she was looking for — a bone she hid under the wet towels.

Then, she pulled out a piece of paper. It was an instant lottery ticket with the numbers scratched off. Probably a winner, and I can use the money to pay the American Express bill. This dog is headed for Wall Street or Vegas… even if she can’t speak English.

 

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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