Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Eel and the Octopus

Gracie pretending to be a good girl.

Are you sitting down? Because I'd hate for you to fall over as you lunge to delete your Morning Dog Devotions bookmark (with an eye roll, a slow head shake, and a mumbled, "I gave her plenty of chances..." on your pursed lips).

I realize how incredulous this post will sound. But I assure you, though my mother once quipped, "Carol Jean, I swear you exaggerate a thousand times a day," this is not one of those times.

My story is about Gracie--a dog whose every decision is skeletoned by the strictest of moral codes. If she shouldn't do it, she doesn't. If she can make you happy, she will.

At least that's how I'd been thinking of her for the past 10 years. Until a couple of months ago. I now know that Gracie lives her life by two wholly distinct and separate moral codes: One for her interactions with humans... and another for her relationship with Rose.

A little background. Y' see... Rose has always dominated Gracie. 

She pushes her way out the door first; once outside she pees on top of Gracie's pee (sorry for the indecorous image); and if Gracie gets a bone or a toy, Rose takes it. 

Those are among the criteria we humans use to assess dominance between dogs. But we are fools. I know this now.

A little more background. Y' see... Gracie is a thinker.

She studies the landscape, weighs options, tests hypotheses, and calculates risks before acting. This I've known forever. What I hadn't considered was that the same mental powers she uses to navigate her way though a world where smarter creatures rule, she also wields against the beings she can outwit. Namely, Rose. 

It turns out that our dear darling Gracie is submissive like a moray eel is submissive. 

The ocean denizen spends a great deal of time hiding timidly in a crevice. But pity the poor octopus who happens past that particular crevice unawares. A moray gets what a moray wants.

Just like Gracie. 

One last bit of background. Y' see... when either dog wants to go outside, she rings the bell hanging from the doorknob. 

Rose does most of the ringing, since she goes out about 20 times a day to patrol the perimeter. On the rare occasion that Gracie has business to conduct outside, she takes advantage of one of those 20 opened doors.

But lately Gracie has been ringing the bell herself. Hearing the jingle, Rose bolts to the foyer because, by cracky, ain't no one getting out that door ahead of her!

And surprisingly often now, when we open the door, Rose plows through Gracie out onto the snowy porch--as Gracie recedes silently, back into the warm kitchen. Poor Gracie. Has Rose's enthusiasm intimidated her? 

Um... no.

It finally dawned on us that Gracie has noticed a pattern in our lifestyle we were barely aware of. She's run the numbers, and about 33.3% of the time when Rose and/or Gracie comes in from outside, both dogs get a small welcome home treat. (And there are few things in life Gracie relishes more than treats.) 

So our furry little Alan Turing computed a complicated sequence that would up her daily treat intake--while appeasing her aversion to cold weather. 

Gracie rings the bell to get Rose to go outside. We know this to be true, because Mr. Turing waits in alert mode until Rose barks to come back in. This is the signal for Gracie to slip into position by the pantry, waiting for the reward she so richly deserves.

So now I know. There's dominance... and there's dominance. 

Today I think I'll take a few moments to look at the biggest obstacles standing between me and what I want. Could a little creative thinking get me there?