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Washington Voices

Dogs know the language of friendship

Three words can pull screen doors off hinges, scratch leather furniture and cause unimaginable mayhem.

Three words. Where’s. The. Squirrel.

Sam, a 17-pound fawn and white Italian greyhound, is the culprit behind the mayhem because Sam knows these words. Monotone voice and zero body language make no difference. Once uttered, these three little words set Sam’s unique form of poetry into motion.

 Although Italian greyhounds are miniatures of the greyhound breed, don’t let their small stature fool you. Sam’s rock solid with spear-like legs that sprint across the yard like a gazelle. His eyes, the color of a wheat field, are as bright and clear as a spring day.

 When we adopted Sam three years ago, we didn’t know about the silent dog oath he took to dispel any and all interlopers, be they beast or figments of his imagination, from our yard. Like America’s military, he takes his oath seriously, standing guard at the back door, ears a-ten-hut, eyes glazed over as he listens intently for the click-click-click of the menacing creatures he’s sworn to protect us from.

 We have not forgotten the damage the three-words-that-must- never-be-spoken did the day he shot through the air taking the screen door with him. It spun across the porch. We raced outside expecting injuries. Sam was in fine stealth mode. The squirrel was perched atop the fence in pretend-you’re-a-lawn- ornament mode. The door was toast.

Newton theorized that for every action there’s a reaction. Squirrels know this and take masochistic joy in creating that reaction with dogs like Sam. I suppose these fuzzy little bundles of nut-cracking energy gotta have fun and their thrill-seeking ways of flicking tails and leaping onto the nearest ponderosa pine branch, knowing one slip and it’s sayonara, have to be admired.

 To appease Sam’s Alpha Bravo Squirrel missions, he and our other IG, Lucky, have a collection of stuffed toys. “Get the stuffy,” another sentence they’ve mastered, incites rambunctious rounds of tug-of-war until a stitch pops and the stuffy is shredded with gusto.

Besides “where’s the squirrel” and “get the stuffy” there are other words these guys know. Come to think of it, they have quite a vocabulary. “Walk” has been tossed into the don’t-say-don’t-speak pile. “Let’s go” and “you ready” also fall into that pile and if the word “popcorn” slips out, things can, and do, get ugly.

When comparing human species with canine species, the most astounding discovery is the canine’s ability to understand and assimilate into our world – an ability that humans haven’t quite got the hang of yet.

They learn our language, react to our moves, adjust and adapt to our idiosyncrasies as well as understand them. Without complaint or explanation, support and encouragement are at the ready with a gentle nudge that says I’m here, a silly antic that brings a laugh. They become a needed confidant and/or handkerchief to soothe the sorrows when no one else can. They protect the home front from dangerous squirrels.

They know us. Even more remarkable, they want to know us. Yet we humans remain flummoxed about the how’s and why’s of canine actions and behavior, unable to comprehend their language and too many times taking for granted their unconditional love and loyalty.

It’s no wonder dog is God spelled backward.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email Previous columns are available at columnists/


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