I was taking an advanced grammar class when we got Dante, the beagle-mutt. To be honest, Dante was a noisy dog. It was hard to tell when he was playing or yapping or wanted to go out.
My grammar teacher used phrases from foreign languages to teach us to recognize patterns and word meanings based on situational repetitions. I thought Dante might be doing the same thing – only instead of Russian or Portuguese, Dante spoke dog.
In class, I could usually guess what the teacher’s examples meant. But I was flunking dog.
He’d be standing by the door, barking. I’d ask, “Do you want OUT?” as I opened the door. But, he’d continue to stand there, barking.
I’d sit on the bean bag pillow, and pat my lap. “Do you want UP?” But he’d continue to stand by the door, barking.
Eventually, I’d go back to whatever I was doing – often homework for my grammar class. Why could I figure out when the foreign language speaker wanted fire or food, but not what my dog
Dante was cute. Dante was cuddly. Dante played happily with my children. He also had needs –food, toilet breaks, play-with-people time.
We were living in Florida, where the average home has 20,000 roaches. I didn’t want to put out his food when he wasn’t hungry, and give the roaches a free meal.
I was only home for two walks a day, so if he wanted out between walks, I wanted to be sure he was out when he needed to be out.
Not only was I unable to interpret when he wanted OUT, he was unable to hold it. I’d step in a puddle and know I was flunking Dog.
On the occasions when I guessed right, and he went OUT, I started making up songs about it. You went Out! Out! Out! Out! I like to shout! You went OUT!
My neighbors were the indulgent sort, so they just smiled as if I were a child learning to toddle.
Dante would run over to them for extra petting and maybe some reassurance – Look, I’m teaching my human. She’s a slow learner, so we have to be patient with her.
One day, I was sure Dante was asking for OUT. I opened the front door. Rain poured down. Dante looked at me as if I had betrayed him. He didn’t budge. I resigned myself to finding another puddle.
A few minutes later, Dante was at the back door. He distinctly said, “Out!” There was no other way to interpret what he had said. It was “Out” in English. Expecting another rebuff, I opened the back door. Sun was shining. He dashed out and did his business.
I checked the front door. It was still raining. I always knew that rain clouds had an edge where the rain stopped. This time it was right over my house.
In my grammar class, the teacher asked us if we thought animals had language, comparable to what we had been studying. I told him my dog could say, “Out, ” when he wanted to go out. The other students looked at me as if I was imagining things, but I think my teacher believed me.
After that, Dante said “Out” when he wanted to go out. And when it rained, he always checked the other door. But we were never under the edge of a cloud again.