According to Stanley Coren, PhD, a dog’s intelligence is on par with a two-year-old human’s. My dog is smarter than your baby.
“But Adequate,” the new parent exclaims, “your dog licks his ass!”
Yes, he does. Can your baby do that?
“Seriously, Adequate,” you persist (shouldn’t somebody be vomiting on you right about now?), “my baby is VERY, advanced.”
Of course she is. But my dog could steal her favorite toy and hide it in a shoe. To your baby, the toy has disappeared. My dog knows that thanks to adverse possession and the caking properties of dog saliva, that toy is his. Your daughter can reapply to obedience school when she understands object permanence.
Someday your kid will catch up with my dog. But even then, she’ll still be doglike.
Some people hate hearing this. “You dog people don’t know anything about children!”
Actually, I’ve got a kid. In fact, I know so much about kids that I recently got a second dog.
I love kids, and left to my own devices at a kindergarten function, I pay more attention to the kids than the adults. Just like at the dog park, I spend more time watching the dogs than chatting with their owners.
I like to hang with critters. I define “critter” as any living thing that doesn’t notice how I dress. That includes dogs, birds, hydrangeas, butterflies, kids, and hedgehogs. My husband, who is utterly oblivious to what I’m wearing, is not a critter because all of my critter relationships are platonic. So two criteria: platonic, doesn’t notice my clothes.
Note: Cats’ critter status is up for debate. Cats as a species do not think all that highly of humans. Who am I to say it’s not because of how we dress?
Kids are critters, and like dogs they are pack critters. In kindergarten and in the dog park, there are slight variations in social roles. In kindergarten there is the girl who wants to help pour juice into Dixie cups instead of finishing the party games. At the dog park there’s always that beagle that jumps onto the picnic table and sticks his nose into a human armpit while the others wrestle.
Their roles vary but there is a pack rule that is never broken: critters do not hold back with one another. Their bodies show you everything you need to know, even without words.
Watch their body language, and you know everything. Two dogs wrestle at the park. Their tails wag, their tongues and jowls flap. This is play. Two kids roughhouse. They giggle, they roll, their bodies are loose and free. This is play. It’s not allowed anymore, but it’s play.
Critters know when they are okay, and they make it clear to each other. People still believe they know better.
Like at the dog park. My dog Homer is big. And black. He gets racially profiled. He’s playing with another dog, and tail is wagging, his tongue lolling, and his whole body says “play!” The dogs he’s playing with know what he means. They’re saying the same.
But their people must know better. “Get your dog away from mine, he’s going to bite!”
No, ma’am, Homer just wants your Uptightenpinscher to chase him. See?
She’s not buying, and said ‘pinscher is hauled away for its own good. Homer finds a tennis ball.
Next day, I show up at the local pool with the human equivalent of a big black dog—two kindergarteners. My daughter and her classmate, whom she plans to marry (I disapprove because they have threatened to live with me).
The kids’ pool should be like the dog park. You let your critter splash and play with a pack of water critters. The problem is the anti-critter people. Also known as new parents.
People love to take their babies in the water. Why? Because babies can’t do anything other than get held in the water. So on any given day at our Northwest DC pool, you can find at least one couple sharing the awesome responsibility of half-submerging their infant and staring at him. New parents do not know that babies are critters.
I unleash two gentle kindergarteners into a space with the Waterbabies© crowd. To these parents they look like a big black dog sent to devour the baby. First splash, and baby chaperone is lecturing them. Meanwhile the baby is cooing in delight at said kindergarteners. Rule of critters: critters love to watch bigger critters. It doesn’t matter that the baby actually likes these two snarling black dogs. Humans know better than to respect critter body language.
That makes me sad for the critters. They do great things when in packs. I can see it on their faces, in their wagging tails, in their giggles. I can see the wonder of it, but alas stopped being a critter some time ago myself, and can only try to imagine what it feels like.
Not too long from now, my kid and her friend will stop being critters. If the older kids we know are any indication, she will start to notice what I wear first. If custom and culture affect her sweet friend in the ordinary way, he will learn to hide his feelings first. Thus their critterhood will end, as it always does with humans.
That will break my heart a little.
But at least they will be old enough to walk the dogs.