A Dog’s Love Life

The sun is out, but there is a cold and very strong wind rattling the windows. Leonard is barking at the voice coming through E.’s telephone. I’ve been wondering how he knows it is a live person on the other end and not a recording. He’s never barked at my phone when I’ve had podcasts playing. I often wonder how he experiences the world. What he hears and smells, and if there are other senses we don’t know about. How when A. heads over to take him for a walk and she is still out of sight down the street, and he is lying under the coffee table, his tail starts slapping the rug in building anticipation.

But more often I am amazed by his… simplicity. I think he understands two words. Neither one of them is “come”. He will stop when I say “wait”, but still doesn’t respond to “stop”. He’s rewarded with peanut butter randomly when he brings me his kong. But still hasn’t understood that if he were to bring it to me… Sometimes he will be lying alongside me on the sofa and then look up and suddenly nip my nose – as though he’d forgotten I’d been there all along. Little moments of unexpected happiness. I do kind of envy him that.

For the record, the other word he knows is “night-night”. He’ll run down the stairs, down the hall, and launch himself – soaring onto the bed for his half-hour of cuddles. We read until he wanders down to his own bed, and we strip off the dog-friendly comforter and turn off the lights.

And I am totally aware that if anyone reading this is not a dog person, they are very done with my writing now.

My point is that he is in the moment. When he perceives a threat, his hackles rise and he growls. Barks. And when the threat passes, he literally shakes it off. When he is happy, he is happy all over. Then the moment passes. When he is happy again, it is (seems to be) the same surprised and sudden glee. There’s no clinging.

I have no idea what this means. I mean: clearly, dogs have memories. But do they have narratives with those memories? Or are these memories simple associations?

Leonard loves me. If I can use that word here in a way everyone understands in context. It took him a few weeks to bond. It took him over a year to bond with E. But he also loves the man who lives down the street. In a sudden, weirdly overwhelming kind of way. You can see it in his whole body when we near the man’s house. How he stares at the kitchen window hoping to see him. How all of the muscles in his face change when the man walks toward him. I actually feel a pang of jealousy. I don’t get it. I mean, the man is really nice and all, but…

I was thinking maybe we aren’t that different from dogs after all. We do have narratives that build affections and then love. And sometimes: pang. Our heart skips a beat. And we can’t shake it off.

I’ve been thinking about all these images in the media right now. The kind that is… pang: but breaks your heart. I might be important to make sure that I expose myself to the ones that remind me to fall in love, too. That there are narratives that build affection and narratives that build hate: and too often too easily those are intertwined and begin to look inseparable.

They aren’t inseparable. Nuance is important. Perspectives and discourse. But the experience of one good thing, simple and true on its own terms? That matters, too.

We have the time if we take it.


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  1. Love this. And thinking about after the stroke when Tashi refused to acknowledge me