A couple recent incidents prompted me to reflect on how dogs develop and express sensitivities to their people. Bowdu, in particular, is quite attuned to his surroundings, which necessarily includes the people at his side.
Last week I took the Bows to my favorite hiking trail around a lake in the nearby hills. Temperatures hit an unexpected high, and these cool, shaded woods were a pleasant alternative to our usual routes.
As we were resting by the creek that feeds into the lake, I accidentally dropped my water bottle. I blurted out, “Oh no!” as it splashed down below.
Instantly, Bowdu was at my side. I didn’t need to point or gesture at all — he saw what I was looking at and sprang into action.
The bottle wasn’t particularly difficult to fetch, nor was it moving very quickly downstream. Nevertheless, I was in awe of how completely Bowdu responded, especially how his entire face flashed GAME ON! This is not something I’ve trained him to do specifically, yet he knew implicitly to extend backyard fetch to new terrain, and that the goal was to retrieve the errant object.
While Bowdu waded confidently to the other side, Bowpi remained dry and uninvolved on the trail. Asking her to fetch in the water would be futile.
Bowdu wasn’t exactly ready to dive in, either. He attempted a couple times to pluck the bottle out with his mouth, but it bobbed below the surface. So instead, he reached out with a paw to pull the bottle ashore…
… and then picked it up when he was able to get a proper grip with his mouth.
Even though he didn’t carry the bottle all the way to me, I cheered so enthusiastically, another trail walker couldn’t help but wander over to see what my commotion was about. I started to gush about Bowdu’s amazing retrieve, but stopped short when I saw this guy was accompanied by a Labrador Retriever; I might as well have been raving about my Shiba’s beautiful dump in the woods.
Narrating this in hindsight, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. What seemed magical at the time was how quickly Bowdu sprang into action at the sound of my alarm, and how piqued he was by the situation. He’s got a sharp mind and some drive to speak of, and no doubt would have earned his keep as a working Shiba of yore. As a 21st century companion, I haven’t asked him to do much, but over the years he has risen to unexpected occasions and provided exceptional assistance, on call.
A line to bold in a resume, if he had one!
The second incident also stemmed from an unexpected encounter.
I had just leashed up the dogs and was shoving my foot into my shoe when I felt a pea-sized pebbly thing at the toes. I tried to wriggle it loose with my toes, but then it started quivering. Jolted by the sensation, I leaped two rooms across the length of the house to kick off my shoe in the kitchen and fling out the contents. When an angry bee tumbled out, I squealed in horror and revulsion.
Again, Bowdu was instantly at my side, and identified the source of my consternation within a split second. There was barely a hesitation, no time for me to warn him off before he swooped down and snapped the bee with his teeth. The bee fell silent and motionless, as I’d seen happen right before my eyes when Bowdu killed a mouse in a similar situation. Yet somehow, like that mouse years ago, the insect body remained intact, unmangled and lifeless.
A precision kill.
Maybe the creature had been frightened to death. At any rate, it had been effectively dispatched by the time Bowpi tiptoed over to investigate. Though also a hunter, she hunts for herself, and is certainly not responsive the way Bowdu can be.
This is how bonds are formed and expressed between human and dog. They easily bridge the sensual pleasures of sight and touch to affective satisfactions when they respond to fright, alarm, or other sudden changes in mood. There is basic, primal security in not only having your screams heard, but acted upon. Now, I hesitate to say that Bowdu responded out of any sense of altruism in the first example, or protection in the second. It may have been sheer animal instinct, but most importantly, it was invoked by my voice. Canine action is always preferable to a lonely echo.