Sunday, May 11, 2008

It Has Been a While Since I Last Sang the Praises of My Dog, Ripley

A character in a book I'm re-reading states that the good thing about having a dog is that you can train him to love you. "Love" falls short of "adore," which is really how a dog wins his way into a human heart.

But apart from the flattery of having another mammal's undivided and inalienable attention, how does a dog win a human's love and adoration?

My dog did it with a sense of humor. I don't really know whether dogs are supposed to have a sense of humor, since physiologically they can't laugh. But I'm convinced Ripley, my 11+ year old whippet, has a definable sense of humor. For one thing, he seems thrilled to hear me laugh. If I laugh at anything--Curb Your Enthusiasm or Jonathan Swift--he comes running to me, mouth open in a dog's approximation of a grin and tail wagging, ready to be in on the fun.

More importantly, the most positive reinforcement I can give to any behavior of his is to laugh. If I laugh, it seems, all is right in the world of Ripley. When he makes one of his amazing catches, his hindquarters spinning over his head, I laugh out loud, and that laughter just eggs him on and on into more feats of derring-do. It's kind of like that scene on the cliff in King Kong, with my dog playing Naomi Watts and I'm the big appreciative ape. (He even seems to understand the universal simian signal for "let's play"--wiggling both hands in the air over one's head. Do that around Ripley, and he's up like a shot.)

And here's his idea of a joke--He acts as if he's not paying any attention to me, nonchalantly stretched out on his pillow-bed, yawning even, and then, when I turn away from him, he leaps up and punches me in the ass, then he runs like a maniac through every room in my small apartment.

Good one, Ripley. Good dog.

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