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You have only 20 words. Use them wisely

Submitted by on Tuesday, 25 January 2011 No Comment

I read somewhere a long time ago that a dog is about as intelligent as a 3-year-old. I read somewhere recently that a dog can understand only about 20 words, which means someone’s either underestimating canine smarts or not giving toddlers enough credit.

To attempt to keep things simple around here when it came to educating Rita, I opted to follow the “20 words” school of thought. Notice that I said “attempt to.” Sometimes I think I’ve complicated my life for the sake of simplifying Rita’s.

No, Boots, “uh uh” is not the same as “no.” Not in Rita’s world. And Big Guy, calling her “bad dog” for peeing on the floor doesn’t tell her what she did wrong. It just makes her slink and gaze at you with eyes begging forgiveness, but for what she doesn’t know.

I tried tallying the words we know she knows the other day to give the guys an idea of how few they actually have to work with.

There are the name words: Big Guy, Boots, Mommy, Daddy, Rita. That’s five right there.

There are the command words – she didn’t know any of these when she came to live with us: Sit, stay, come, stop, drop it (I’m cheating a bit and counting that as one word), down, no, potty, out, bedtime. That’s an additional 10.

There are the words that Rita’s learned because they’re happy ones for her: Walk, toy, kisses, breakfast, lunch, dinner. That’s six more. I’m wishing that we’d opted instead for the all-encompassing “food” instead of individual meals.

The problem is, we’re over our quota but not out of things to teach.

No, Rita, don’t drag Mommy across the street in an effort to protect us from the rampaging chihuahua.

No, Rita, do not put your paws on the dining room table and try to eat from the guys’ plates – the offer seems to be null and void on “no,” “stop” and “down” if there’s food involved.

No, Rita, that rule about “if it’s left on the floor the dog has property rights” does not apply if it’s the floor of the laundry room, the door to which the guys left open. “Drop it” doesn’t seem to work if there are dirty socks involved. As bad as Big Guy’s feet smell of late, I’m amazed that she hasn’t asphyxiated herself.

And that’s before you get to the Clintonesque parsing of words. I use “stop” to mean “cease running because I’m not hungry for sand sandwich after you drag me all over the post.” Even that doesn’t work in the case of rampaging chihuahuas. The guys use “stop” to mean “cease chewing on the shoe because the fumes could kill you and Mean Mom won’t buy me a new pair if she finds out you chewed it after I left it on the floor.”

What’s a dog to do?

I strongly suspect that Rita knows more than she’s letting on. How else do you explain the fact that I have to drag her out of the human bed at bedtime, yet the instant she hears me headed to wake the guys in the morning her furry feet hit the floor before I make it to the top of the stairs?

It reminds me of the guys, who still hear “throw all your toys in the closet and somehow cram the door shut” when I say “clean up your room.”

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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