This afternoon I had to go out for a short while and as I was about to leave the house our dog Cindy came and sat on her dog bed and waited expectantly. As usual she was waiting for a treat. When Cindy was a young dog she used to get very upset if Hubby and I went out without her. As soon as we’d shut the glass sliding door at the back of the house she’d start leaping up and down and getting very upset. In order to calm her down we did what we’d found worked with our previous dogs, we gave her treats. We soon found that the treat she liked best was a handful of “Goodoes”. It worked and over time she came to associate our leaving the house with her getting a treat so she would rush to the back door then sit waiting for it. It was only supposed to happen if we were leaving her alone but after a while Cindy decided that it should happen whenever either of us left the house even if the other one was still at home. So that’s why, when she realised I was going out, she was there waiting for that handful of treats. I don’t like her to have too many treats as she is part labrador and will eat anytime so usually she only gets them if we’re going somewhere.
I can’t help finding this little trick of Cindy’s amusing and it got me thinking about the other things that our pets learn from us. Most dogs know the meanings of several words apart from the ones we teach them like “Sit”, “Stay” etc. Who hasn’t tried spelling out “W.A.L.K” only to find that the dog knows what that means as well. They seem to learn words like “Sausage” and “Biscuit” very easily. Cindy’s vocabulary also includes “Letterbox” because she considers it a huge treat to go to the end of the driveway with me to get our mail.
Of course dogs can recognise non verbal cues too. Dogs always seem to know that putting on shoes or wearing certain clothing means you are going out as well as the obvious picking up of bags and keys. My sister, who wears a uniform to work, says that her dogs know if she puts on the clothes she wears around the house that she is staying home with them. Recently we bought a new letterbox which we keep padlocked and Cindy quickly learned that when I pick up a certain set of keys we’re going to get the post. She is eight now so apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Most pets, cats as well as dogs, seem to know that a suitcase means that their human is going away. Dogs get mopey, cats, well I don’t know if it upsets them but they know. I can remember one occasion when Hubby and I were going on a trip when we sneaked out of the house with our suitcases because one of our cats had the habit of following us to the railway station meowing piteously all the way. He might have been saying “Don’t leave me!” but it could also have been “Where’s the can opener?” I guess. This particular cat, a big ginger named Peter, also worked out how the trains worked. He’d sometimes follow me to the station in the morning, once even coming onto the platform and rubbing himself up against waiting passengers. (I pretended I didn’t know him.) In the afternoons he would occasionally be waiting for me on the platform on the opposite side of the tracks. How he knew that was the one I’d arrive on I don’t know.
Cats are smart and they quickly learn the behaviours that get our attention. Honestly sometimes I wonder who is training who? We used to have canaries at one time and the cats were taught, mostly by means of squirt bottle of water, that they must not go after the birds. Mostly they didn’t but one of them, if her cries for dinner were ignored for too long would jump onto the kitchen bench near enough to get to the cage. She was obviously saying “If you don’t give me something to eat soon I’ll get my own.” because it was the only time she ever did it. She also learned, this was in the 80s, that food came out of microwaves so instead of meowing at the fridge she’d meow at the microwave. My sister has a cat with a sense of humour, when I visit he likes to jump onto my chair the minute I get out of it. Last time I was there he came into the room unseen by either my sister or I and jumped onto my seat which I’d vacated for a few minutes. I nearly sat on him!