Key wordsOur dogs understand a great deal of English. As well as the more usual, ‘Breakfast, supper, biscuits, coming out?’ they also know ‘trousers’. Barry comes downstairs in his pyjamas in the morning for his first pot of tea. When he says, prior to us going out, ‘I’ll just go and get my trousers on,’ the three younger dogs rise from their resting places (sofa, chair, rug) and race upstairs after, or more often ahead of, him. Now that Barry has two new knees I don’t worry so much about the dogs barging him.
When we say, ‘We’d better put their collars on’, they get very excited and when it’s followed by, ‘I’ll just get the car on the drive’ their joyous anticipation accelerates. After that it’s, ‘boots on’ that convinces them that we are really all going out (not the cats, obviously!)
‘Who did that?’ causes consternation and a downturn of the tail and ‘Behave’ elicits grins from Gus and Bertie. Jenna and Roxy do not grin. ‘Bed now’, means it’s time to retire for the night and then all the animals trot up to our bed. Gus, Bertie and Roxy leap onto it, followed by Herschel, Isambard and Jellicoe. (Jenna is an older lady now and prefers the peace and solitude of her own bed.) Solomon is often already there and has to be persuaded to vacate his place and allow them access. Very often I go upstairs first so that I can claim my bed space.
Gus is really too big to be a lap dog . . .
. . . but when you're tired after a good walk and swim . . .
. . . the Master's lap is the only place to be, though it's jolly difficult to get comfortable.
They also recognise their canine friends’ names in conversation.
However, the prize must go to Barry’s cousin Sylvia’s late Jack Russell. Jack was an enormous help, collecting items for her and picking up things she had dropped. He was a very alert little dog, always prepared to help, particularly if it meant he would receive a treat, but even Sylvia was astonished on one occasion. She is an expert knitter but one day she said, ‘Oh, I’ve dropped a stitch,’ and Jack busily hunted for it. I suspect he had a treat even though he couldn’t find the dropped stitch.
After a lifetime of living with dogs (and cats) we are still learning about and from them. They are fantastic companions and ask so little of us. Increasingly we realise their understanding is so much greater than we ever thought. I’m sure they will soon master spelling as we frequently spell out words in order to avoid over-excitement.