Odd Thoughts: About walls and doors and stares

If only our pets could tell us why they do what they do.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

But maybe they can adapt old tricks.

I got a phone call from Donna while I was out today. She sounded distraught. She was worried about Sam’s behaviour.

Now, technically, Sam is not a dog. He’s a poodle. When people stop to admire him – and they did that a lot when he was in his prime – he immediately adopts his show-ring pose.

I should interject here that his “show stance” – perfect conformation, standing proud with his front legs directly under his shoulders and hind legs slightly back, and his head high and strong as if gazing intently at a point just beyond the horizon – is entirely innate behaviour. We’ve never had him anywhere near a show ring.

The pose often elicits an admiring gasp, and something like, “Is he pure poodle?”

“Yes,” we’ll say, “He is.”

And then, when Sam hears the usual rejoinder, “What a beautiful dog!” he breaks his stance to look around for the dog. Because he likes dogs.

Today, Donna grew concerned over a strange behaviour that she had not witnessed in Sam before. He just stood staring at the wall. Not any particular wall. Whatever wall happened to be in front of him.

She moved him to a different room, so he stared at a different wall.

She forced him to sit… so he sat staring at a wall.

She got him to lay down… so he lay staring at a wall.

She practically had to force him to accept a piece of cheese… and when he did, he did so distantly, apparently disinterested.

She tried to get him to play ball outside… and without a wall to stare at, he just stared.

So Donna called me. Did I think that maybe Sam – a rather big dog (or poodle, that is) who celebrated his 10th birthday this week – had had a stroke?

No. Sam was just missing me.

Sam really is Donna’s dog. And what she has never seen is how he behaves when she’s not home. He sits and stares at the door. All day.

I can get him to stand… and he stands and stares at the door. All day.

It does give me pause for thought today that he doesn’t seem to understand that I don’t walk through walls.

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