Monday, August 29, 2011

Dante Speaks

Dante is the only dog who ever arrived at our house as a puppy.  I think we talked to him differently because he was a baby. Single words. Lots of repetition.

I was taking a grammar class when Dante moved in.  Our teacher talked about how we can understand what is meant from context and voice tone even when we do not understand the words.  Grammar means that there is a logic to the word choices.

For example, when my father read us the story of “The Three Little Pigs” he would always read the section in which the wolf dressed up in sheep’s skin to trick the pigs as “Ah Foo Lamb” cried the Big Bad Woof.  At the time I did not know he was supposed to read “I’ll fool them.”  But I understood that the wolf was being sneaky.

And sometimes words have no context at all.  For example, when a parrot learns to talk, the parrot learns whole sentences, such as “Polly wants a cracker,” or “Pretty boy.”  But the parrot will never say “Polly wants a pretty boy,” or “Pretty boy wants a cracker.”  Parrots don’t understand grammar.

Dante understood grammar and meaning.  When he fell off our bean bag chair, he said, “oooo” and he limped. He’d heard our girls cry when they fell, and he was imitating them. 

We took him to the vet who gave him a pain shot so he’d lie still for an x-ray. Dante loved that pain drug.  Long after he recovered from his sprain, he would suddenly say “oooo” and start limping.  

I was impressed by his cleverness, but I didn’t take him to the vet. 

Our goal was to house train him.  We took him for walks in the morning and evening.  And during the day, we would take him to the door open the door, say “out” and then accompany him into the yard.

The first time Dante tried saying “out” on his own, he went to the back door. He very loudly and distinctly said, “Ow.”  Thrilled, I hurried to the door and opened it. A light rain was falling.  I stepped into the yard.  Dante did not accompany me.  I thought maybe he hadn’t understood that “out” meant he was supposed to go out.  Maybe he thought it meant that I would go out.

A few minutes later, Dante stood by the front door and said, “Ow.”  I wondered if he was teasing me.  But I figured it was worth a 2nd try.  I opened the door.  The sky was sunny.  I looked out the back window.  Rain was still falling.  Our house must have been at the edge of the cloud.  I went out.  Dante accompanied me and did his business.

He did know what “out” meant.  But ever after that, if it was raining at one door, he always wanted to try the other one.

1 comment:

  1. Dante sounds like a wonder dog! Wish I'd have known him. He reminds me of Heinlein's book, "Door Into Summer." The cat wants to go out and when his owner opens the door on to a cold blowy snowy day, the cat goes to a different door. He keeps looking for the door into summer. So is Dante. In other news, so glad you are okay? We hear about flooding in Philly, which got hit hard by Irene. I know your house is several steps up so I trust you have escaped damage and danger. I kept trying to send you a message on facebook and for one reason and another my puter wouldn't let me. So now I am.