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  (ARCHIVES)Back to Current
He’s only human (08/09/2006)
By Frances Edstrom

"Now that I've had some time to observe your day-to-day behavior," I said to the dog-who-must-not-be-written-about, "I have some questions for you."

Since I've been pretty much confined to the house after surgery, I have had the opportunity to watch his daily activities, which, to tell the truth, is a lot like watching paint dry. He sleeps all night, takes several morning and afternoon naps, drinks water and eats his food. All in all, his existence gives a whole new meaning to "it's a dog's life."

You've probably noticed this tendency in yourself: when you have a lot of time on your hands, you find yourself giving great weight to thoughts that in normal times would never cross your mind. I've thus found myself wondering how it is that humans have evolved from harnessing animals to work for them, to treating animals like minor deities.

As I watch you-know-who enjoy a life of leisure day after day, I can't help but think that if this were my ne'er -do -well brother-in-law (if I had one) who lolled around my house day after day eating my food and doing nothing useful, he'd find himself out on the sidewalk after a week or two. You-know-who has been enjoying my hospitality for six years now, and although his behavior has improved greatly over those years, who in her right mind keeps a dependent being around who as a youth ate her friends' shoes?

Enough of my human frailties. It's too depressing. Actually, if I had the energy, I should write a book about this and go on Oprah. Human frailties and depression seem to be quite popular on talk television, and why shouldn't we all get paid to tell the world our troubles. Do you ever wonder about the families and friends of some of the wackos who get on TV shows? Do they think to themselves, "Wow, you've got to hand it to her. What a great way to make a few extra bucks!" or do they change the locks and start checking job opportunities in faraway cities.

But, I digress.

The question I have for the dog-who-must-not-be-written-about concerns his perceived boundaries and their effect on his behavior.

In other words, why does a fence make him brave and aggressive and lack of a fence make him docile and polite?

Our back yard, where he can be left untethered and unattended, is fenced. It is bordered on one side by a sidewalk, which for this day and age is quite a busy place, accommodating neighbors and others walking past on their jobs, or at their leisure strolling, running or biking, often accompanied by their own dogs. When they enter you-know-who's line of sight, they are greeted by his ferocious barking, which, if he weren't such a fancy-pants-looking breed of dog, could be rather frightening.

However, since my sister has been staying with us, she often will install me on our front porch, so that I can get some fresh air and taste a bit of freedom. She sometimes goes out into the front yard, which is not fenced, to water the plants or sit on the front steps, and allows you-know-who out into the yard with her.

He is not a wanderer or a runner, and sits calmly on the grass sniffing the summer breezes. And, wonder of wonders, when people or animals approach that would normally set him to outraged baying, he just sits there.

"Why?" I asked him. "How does the presence of a fence make you so brave and raucous, and the lack of one make you so docile? What is it in the chemistry of the canine mind?"

"Oh, you humans are so superior, aren't you?" he said, I thought rather snidely. "As a matter of fact, humans behave in exactly the same manner."

"Oh, really?" I said lamely.

"Let me give you an example," he said. "For six years now, I have been walking the streets and bike paths (only the west lake!) of Winona. Not once in all that time have we encountered at an intersection or in passing a person who made a rude gesture to us. I think you call it ‘giving the finger'?"

"Heavens!" I said, "I hope not. This is a polite society we live in here in Winona."

"I beg to differ," he said. "Perhaps you have noticed, as have I, that once a human is behind a fence, rude gestures and angry screaming become commonplace."

"What on earth are you talking about? Behind exactly what fence have you seen this behavior?" I asked, scandalized.

"I think," he said, "you call it a windshield. As we drive around town in the car, I often will see humans, young and old, flashing these rude fingers, or with faces contorted in an angry scream when they find themselves sitting safely behind their windshields."

"Gosh," I said, "you're right. How did humans come to adopt such animal behavior?"

"Au contraire," he said, (he's into his French heritage lately), "It is the other way around. How is it that animals in captivity exhibit such human behavior?"

Just then Dorothy walked past with her dogs, giving him the opportunity to flex his muscle and vocal chords, as he was safely behind the family room windows. 


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