As seen through our dog’s eyes
Just call us Chew Toy, Boss and Beni
Around our house, I’m known by a few different names — Bill, Dad, and of course, Gene. Recently, however, I’ve added a new tag: Chew Toy.
As my 16-year-old was playing with our incredibly smart/idiotic dog, Figgy, it struck us that we each have fairly defined roles in the dog’s life. She feeds him and takes him out most of the time, my wife handles the vet visits and pet store trips, and I stick my arm in his mouth until it hurts too much and significant wounding occurs.
It actually sounds worse than it is. Figgy is a rescue dog — an odd terrier/science-experiment-gone-wrong who weighs about 12 pounds, so the amount of trauma he can inflict is somewhat limited. He doesn’t mean to cause damage; it’s just that he’s pointy and made up of teeth, mostly.
So we all wondered — if he associates each of us with different roles and benefits, what does he call each of us in his head? I can’t imagine he has the internal dog vocabulary or the understanding of a family dynamic to come up with “Mom, Dad and Sibling,” but there has to be some correlating identifier.
He’s smart enough to know what he gets from me: play time. He loves to play keep away with his stuffed toys. Actually, I’ll rephrase that — he loves to play ‘savage Dad’s arm while I try to take the stuffed toy away.’
He has a very strong play-drive, so as soon as someone says the phrase, “Ducky Momo,” the name of his favorite toy, he starts bouncing off the walls. My role in this daily routine then is to try to keep Ducky Momo away from Figgy, who employs every one of his gladiatorial skills to get it — usually resulting in various degrees of scarring.
Obviously, I’m Chew Toy. Or The One That Bleeds. There’s no doubt that his dog brain references my wife as “Boss.” She speaks, the dog jumps. Or lays down. Or rolls over. Whatever she tells him to do, he does it. She is the alpha.
It’s a bit harder to define what he’d call my daughter, though. In our family pack, the dog sees himself as pretty close to her in the pecking order. She is his primary caregiver. She takes him out early in the morning and late at night in any weather without ever questioning or complaining. She feeds him twice a day, and she gives him plenty of love. She taught him all his tricks (sit pretty, be gorgeous, levitate). Of course, she also has a quirky habit of telling everyone he’s fat (he’s not), and incredibly young (he’s not). There is a real sibling dynamic there.
After great debate, we eventually settled on “Beni,” which means “sister” in Klingon — which is fitting, because that dog seems to love combat sports.
I blame Ducky Momo.
Bill Burke is the guy with all the scratches and abrasions on his forearms. He lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife, daughter and pointy dog. He is also Managing Editor of Custom Publications for McLean Communications.