If you’ve ever had dogs…
The Hidden Life of Dogs
BY DAVE BARRY
(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published on Dec. 12, 1993.)
I want to talk about the hidden lives of my dogs.
Until recently, I wasn’t aware that my dogs had hidden lives. There were many times, such as when they’d take turns repeatedly eating a deceased lizard and throwing it back up, when I wasn’t even sure they had brains. Then I got ”The Hidden Life of Dogs,” the best-selling book by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who has some astounding insights into dog behavior. For example, in an effort to find out what dogs do when they’re on their own, she spent months following a husky named Misha as he roamed all over Cambridge, Mass. What Thomas discovered was that Misha, who at first appeared to be simply trotting around aimlessly, was in fact earning a degree from Harvard Business School.
No, I am joshing. Harvard does not accept huskies unless their parents are extremely wealthy. What Thomas discovered, after much observation, was that Misha spent his time — and here I will attempt to summarize two full chapters of ”The Hidden Life of Dogs” — sniffing other dogs and peeing a lot.
This might not strike you dog-owners as all that deep of an insight. But trust me, it seems like one when you’re reading the book. Because where you might see just a plain old dog engaging in non-rocket-scientist behavior, Thomas sees a highly sophisticated organism responding to elaborate socio-biological stimuli and performing complex problem-solving tasks. It’s not her fault that the solution to the problem is usually to pee on it.
Anyway, reading this book got me to thinking about my own dogs. Did they have a hidden life? If so, could I discover it, and — more important — write a best-selling book?
To find out, I removed my dogs from the confined, controlled environment of our house and put them outside, where they were free to reveal their hidden lives. I observed them closely for the better part of a day, and thus I am able to reveal here, for the first time anywhere, that what dogs do, when they are able to make their own decisions in accordance with their unfettered natural instincts, is: Try to get back inside the house. They spent most of the day pressing sad moony faces up against the glass patio door, taking only occasional breaks to see if it was a good idea to eat worms (Answer: No).
Of course, the dogs have important and complex socio-biological reasons for wanting to get back into the house. For one thing, the house contains the most wondrous thing in the world: the kitchen counter. One time a piece of turkey fell off of it. The dogs still regularly visit the spot where it landed, in case it shows up again. There’s an invisible Dog Historic Marker there.
Another reason is that the house provides a better echo for barking. Dogs employ barking as a vital means of communicating important messages, such as: ”bark.” Barking also serves a vital biological purpose: If a dog does not release a certain number of barks per day, they will back up, and the dog will explode. (Whenever you hear an unexplained loud noise in the distance, it’s probably a dog exploding.)
Our large main dog, Earnest, spends her day sleeping directly under my desk, and three or four times a day she’ll have a pressure buildup, causing her to wake up, lift her head, release a bark and immediately go back to sleep. Her bark, traveling at the speed of bark, quickly reaches our small emergency backup dog, Zippy, who is sleeping elsewhere in the house. He wakes up and rushes up to the outside of my office door and starts barking at it, because there is clearly something wrong inside. (Why else would Earnest have barked?) This in turn awakens Earnest, who leaps up, bonks her head against the bottom of my desk, then rushes over and starts barking at her side of the door. Each dog is firmly convinced that there is Big Trouble on the other side, possibly involving their arch-enemy, the U.S. Postal Service truck. It comes around every day, and usually Earnest and Zippy are able to drive it off by barking at it and getting spit all over the windows by our front door, but now apparently the truck somehow has GOTTEN INTO THE HOUSE and is ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS DOOR BARK BARK BARK BARKBARKBARKBARK!!!
This is what my dogs are thinking (if ”thinking” is the word I want here) as I get up, walk past Earnest, who is now insane with rage, and open the door. Instantly Earnest charges BARKBARKBARK into the hall, narrowly missing Zippy, who is charging BARKBARKBARK into my office. Each one goes about five feet, then — WAIT a minute!! — skids to a stop, whirls around, and charges back the other way, still barking. Sometimes they’ll pass each other three or four times before they run out of momentum and lie down again, confident that, thanks to their alertness, the house is once again safe. This is the hidden dog world that goes on every day in our house. I admit that, socio-biologically, it is not as interesting as the things that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ dogs do. But Earnest and Zippy are the only dogs I have. Make me an offer.