how to speak dog: lesson #4

The fourth in a series to help you better communicate with your canine Friends.


Bonjour!  Welcome to your next lesson (derived from Lost Dogs, my upcoming young adult sci-fi novel) on how to speak Dog.  You have, of course, gone through our first three installments, have you not?  If you missed them, you can catch up here, here, and here.


We’ve discussed what dogs call cats; today, we’ll learn their words for other animals they usually encounter.  As I mentioned in our introduction, much of canine vocabulary is short and descriptive; that holds very true for the subjects of today’s topic. 


Feel free to squee if you need to.


Let’s start small.  In fact, let’s discuss Littles.  It’s the word dogs use to describe any sort of rodent or small mammal: squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rats, rabbits, whatever.  To a dog, any of these creatures is a Little.  Dogs are not able to communicate with Littles, and wouldn’t be inclined to do so, anyway, as dogs think of Littles as not much more than good opportunities to engage in one of their favorite games, The Chasing:


Buddy runs, weaving among the trees, dodging a pricker bush, the kind with thorns so long and thin and sharp they even go through his thick fur.  And then he’s there in front of her and she’s sniffing, nose touching the ground.  Sniffing sniffing circling circling and the white tip of her tail is flicking backforth fastfastfast.


Sally! he woofs.


She pays him no mind.


Sally! he demands, and she looks up, looks past him, deeper into the trees.


There! she calls, and his eyes follow and then she springs that way and the rear of the long-eared Little flashes white, like they do, as it bolts, zigzagging as Sally chases it, and the Buddy’s chasing it too as Sally bays, and he laughs, tongue flapping from his mouth.  The Little runs under a bush and the Friends go around, one on each side, and they see the Little’s white tail disappear behind a tree and so they run that way and when they get there, the Little is gone, down a hole under the roots of the tree, its Scent tells them.  Sally whines and prances and barks at the hole—Come out!  Come out!  Come out!—but of course, the Little doesn’t.


Come out!  Come out! she demands again.


Come out!  Come out! Buddy insists, everything else forgotten in the joy of The Chasing.  Come out!


Sally looks at him, eyes and mouth wide, tongue wagging in out in out in out, tail straight up.  Did you see it? she asks.  We chased it!  We chased it!  What fun!


It was fun, Buddy agrees.  We almost had it.


No, Sally tells him.  No, we didn’t.  It was too fast—we’d never catch it.  And why would we want to?  If we did, then we wouldn’t be able to chase it anymore.




Then there are Flaps.  As you might imagine, that’s the word dogs use for any sort of bird (you might think that bats are Flaps, too, but they’re Littles, because that’s what they smell like to dogs).  It doesn’t matter if the bird is large or small, what color it is, or whether it travels alone or in flocks: to dogs, they’re all Flaps.


Usually, dogs ignore Flaps, as most of them (Flaps, that is, not dogs), spend much of their time high up in trees or telephone lines or flying (also, dogs don’t tend to look up unless they’re paying attention to people).  Dogs, of course, don’t speak whatever language Flaps use, so when they do interact with them, it can be uncomfortable for both species.  Here’s what happens when some dogs come across a turkey vulture, which are quite common on Kent Island, the setting of Lost Dogs:


Near the parking lot is a yellowy, square dumpster, like the ones by the schools they had found.  The gray plastic lids are flung back, and a blackish-brown Flap with a naked head and sharp, pointed feet is perched atop the edge of the dumpster, a bit of something dangling from its beck.  The Flap is big—as big as Sally—and unlike other Flaps, it doesn’t fly off when the Friends pad near.  The Flap’s tiny yellow and black eyes watch them approach, shifting from each to another.  When the Friends get close, it stands up taller and spreads its wings, grayish-brown underneath.


They stop a few steps away from the dumpster, and the Flap holds still, wings out.


What is that? Poppy asks, staying behind Buddy.


Buddy scents the air.  There’s rotten Feed—not much of it—in the dumpster.  It looks to high to climb into: only he or Jake might be able.  And then if they did, would they be able to get out?


Hey! Buddy barks at the Flap.  Its head swivels, eyes lock on him, but the rest of it doesn’t move.  Hey! Buddy shouts again.  Go away!  Go away or I’ll bite you!


The Flap says nothing, does nothing.  Only stares.


Go!  Go!  Buddy repeats, stepping closer.


Buddy, be careful, Sally warns.  It…it looks mean.


The Flap raises its wings, opens its beak, the bit of whatever it had dropping beside the dumpster.  Hisses like a Mrow.




Lastly (for now), there are Buzzes and Crawls, Hops and Squirms.  If dogs devote little attention to Flaps, they pay even less to ants, flies, crickets, bees, spiders, worms, and similar critters that you can find in your backyard or home.  Why not?  Usually, there are better things for dogs to attend to.  Which is not to say that dogs never notice them:


The Crawls have found the bag of Feed.  Buddy had pulled it out of the cabinet where Genn usually kept it, and during Dark, the Crawls had sensed it.  Now they make a long line from it, across the floor to the wall, where they vanish.  At least, they vanish to Buddy’s eyes.  Like other Friends, he’s good at seeing what moves, and at seeing in Dark, but not at seeing what’s tiny, like Crawls, especially if they’re right in front of him.


No matter.  His nose tells him that that the Crawls aren’t gone, they’re just inside the wall, hustling up and down it, under the house, into the earth below, where many, many more of them are.  With the hum of the house’s electricity gone, he can hear the faint tapping of their thousands of feet as they ceaselessly creep about.


That’s all for this time.  Come back soon for another lesson!



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