Who makes this stuff up?

5 May 2020|Pet talk| Off Comments off on Who makes this stuff up?|

By Scott Hunt

The Dog Grumbler


SOME interesting things have been said about dogs in literature over the last few centuries.

Many have worked their way into modern daily usage and some are outright weird.

When has it ever actually rained cats or dogs for example?

One that has stewed quietly in the back of my mind for decades is the dog in the manger.

Imagine my surprise when I included a dog sleeping with the baby Jesus in my crayon nativity scene and was held up to ridicule.

I must have heard the expression somewhere.

The only manger I knew of was the one out back of the busy inn somewhere in Palestine.

If there was a dog in one then that must be it.

“And who’s this little fat guy?” My teacher asked.

“That’s Round John Virgin Miss.”

More derision.

It turns out someone noticed a dog in a feed bin somewhere, apparently preventing the cows or goats or whatever from taking lunch.

They proceeded to jump to the conclusion that the dog was just being nasty and decided to carve it in stone or inscribe it in bronze or make up a song about it or whatever got this thing going.

Allow me to grumble on behalf of that dog — who I suspect was maligned — and with her, dogs ever since.

Consider this: a favourite afternoon pastime of my dog’s is bird training.

She expects a snack midafternoon – she reminds me if I forget.

But she doesn’t just eat it; she eats a little and then steps back a metre or two and settles down to watch.

If no starlings or miners arrive, she shuffles back another metre.

When one eventually turns up, she immediately chases it away and goes back to guard duty.

Here’s the thing: after three or four visits she lets them eat.

Juxtaposing this on inter-dog food rituals suggests to me that she is applying dog culture to the birds — not bullying them, but showing them that this is her turf and that they eat by her grace.

This is how she asserts herself over other dogs I work with, especially younger or male animals when they visit.

She claims first chew of any bone on offer, but always leaves them something, so they patiently stare and salivate until she’s ready.

The starlings and miners line up on the fence whenever she eats alone and wait for the game to start.

She steps back, they approach, she reproaches, they return to the fence until she condescends.

At her end of reality, my dog has trained the birds to sit on the fence and ask nicely.

I think a dog in a manger is probably applying the same dog culture to cows or goats — especially if her job is to herd them — to reinforce her authority.

In her world and probably theirs, food and right-of-way rituals underpin social organisation.

Behave and you get some hay.

Remember who loves you when we’re out grazing tomorrow.

These interactions and rituals pervade most animal behaviour.

They function to maintain complex social systems and hierarchies – it’s only we verbal communicators who don’t get it.

I bet that goat or cow was no underling either; she was likely a delegate – a spokesgoat.

Just being nasty? I don’t think so.

Not an isolated incidence either.

Just one more example of human anthropomorphic hubris I suggest.

Stay tuned for the dogs of war.

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About the Author: Glenorchy Gazette

The Glenorchy Gazette is your monthly community newspaper, reaching over 24,000 homes and businesses in the Glenorchy municipality. It is the product of Nicolas Turner, Justine Brazil, Ben Hope, Simon Andrews, Tobias Hinds and guest contributors, with support from advertisers.

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