|Bow takes it easy on the rim of the bench|
Every night, when I coax Brownie to come in from the cold and spend the night in my bedroom, I know that Bow, in the inner pen, all snuggled up in his blankets and safe in the warm darkness of his night time safe place, is listening to me and Brownie interact. Brownie is older now, and he is very slow to come when I call him. Some of that is because his lumbering gait has changed a little over time, but another reason is that he does not seem to respond to my verbal coaxing. It is only when I reach out and touch him and beckon with my hand that he finally decides that it is okay to come in through the open sliding glass door. Then I hear Bow make an approving, low sounding "ah-ah-ah" sound from inside the inner pen, which means he feels all is well with me and Brownie. "Good night, Bow," I call out to him in Hebrew, and then I close the glass door. The house is built in such a way that you can actually see into my room from the inner pen, unless I have the curtain drawn.
|Brownie takes it easy in a blanket of leaves|
Brownie is sweet and very cooperative, but I have always felt, ever since he adopted us, that his language comprehension was less developed than that of our other dogs and overall less advanced than that of any other dogs I have known throughout my life.
I speculated that maybe it was because by the time he found us outside of my daughter's gymnastics class and asked that we take him home with us he was already about two years old. I thought maybe it was because we speak Hebrew at home, but he was probably exposed only to English during his puppyhood. But today, I have a different theory. Because today I realized that Brownie is deaf.
|View of the ledge in front of my bedroom door from the pen|
When I went out to give Brownie his breakfast, Leo was standing on the ledge that leads to my room, eagerly awaiting the feeding, even though Brownie never lets him eat. (We have to feed Leo separately inside.) But Brownie knew this was his breakfast time, and he stood and looked eagerly toward the center of house, with his back to me. He looked as if he thought I was still in the inner pen. I came and stood right behind him and told him that breakfast was ready and asked him to come. But Brownie just kept looking longingly at the house, and it was only when I touched him lightly on the flank that he turned around, startled, then happy to see me. He followed me right to the ledge of my room, where I put his bowl down, and he eagerly ate.
Somebody recently talked to me about how the language ability of apes is far better than that of dogs, and I told her that actually I have known some dogs who had excellent language comprehension, though, of course, they had no means of production. They understood things I said in Hebrew to them that no one else in the room understood, because everyone else spoke only English. Or they attended to things as a result of a conversation that was not directed to them, but they learned new information by eavesdropping. However, I had to admit that not all dogs are equally good at understanding spoken human language. I was thinking of Brownie. He has always been unusually dense when it came to interpreting speech directed at him.
Brownie was not always this deaf. When he was younger, he did hear noises, and he did know when someone was coming. That's why I did not understand why it was so hard for him to interpret what I said. But I suspect that he may always have been somewhat deaf, and this may have been his secret challenge even when he was young.
Dogs can understand spoken language -- but not if they're deaf. I think Bow has always been more tolerant of Brownie than of the other dogs, because maybe he knew what I didn't: that Brownie could not make out what we said to him.