Ever catch yourself talking in a high-pitched, sing-songy voice to a baby or puppy? It’s embarrassing (and annoying to everyone around you) but you just can’t help yourself. They’re sooooo cutesy-wootsy, cuddly-wuddly you just want to squeeeeeze those chubby little cheeks! Well, turns out babies and puppies have a lot more in common than just being adorable purveyors of poop and drool: they have comparable mental ability, according to University of BC psychology professor Stanley Coren, who writes regularly for Psychology Today.
Coren posits that this is important because it tells us that dogs know, as toddlers do, that when we use that chirpy tone of voice we’re talking directly to them, which in turn helps them understand what we want from them. He gives an example of researchers in Hungary who instructed a dog to do something first in that high-pitched, cheerful manner while maintaining eye contact, then again in a monotone, uninflected voice without eye contact. Guess which one the dog responded to? Apparently, the tone makes the mutt (or kid?) feel special.
Kahlua was likely spoken to in that coochie-coochie way from the moment she was born, showered with affection and attention, and, as a result, grew up believing she was queen of the animal kingdom; at least the small fiefdom she inhabits here in San Pancho. And just about everybody — us included — reinforces that belief, often by using the same goo-goo ga-ga gibberish. And she milks it for all its worth. Sometimes she’ll sit there, head held regally high, big grin on her face, looking at you as if to say, “Please, don’t stop. Tell me again how special I am.”
The golden doodle, a hybrid of a golden retriever and a poodle, is basically a designer dog bred to extract the most desirable traits of both breeds, including intelligence, trainability, companionability and calm adaptability (not to mention non-shedability — a bonus for allergy-sufferers). Kahlua has all of those qualities in spades, particularly the easygoing acceptance of people and other pets. Everybody’s her buddy (which is a tad worrisome should we ever be mugged), including a cabal of cats she’s shared her home with, not to mention the infamous Rufus, a breed (Thai ridgeback) not commonly noted for its cuddle quotient (although Rufus and Tai easily smash that stereotype).
But there are conditions placed on this pliant compliance: As long as she retains her queen of the manor position in the hierarchy, she’s golden, as it were. If any other critter shows the slightest hint of usurping her throne, look out. You can’t hug Rufus or pat a cat without her barging in and shoving aside the four-legged offender, pushing her head under your hand. If a half hour has passed and you haven’t talked to or about her, or scratched her ears or rubbed her back, she’ll plant herself in front of you and stare. Forever. If you don’t acknowledge the stare, she’ll place her paw on your arm. If she could “ahem” she would. She must always be first out the door and up the steps, first in line at meal times, sole recipient of your affection. Nothing less will do. Fortunately, she makes it easy to comply.
When we arrived back here for the summer to care for her and Rufus, as well as felines Valentino and Pico, after not having seen them since last year, Kahlua and Rufus greeted us as if we’d been gone a few hours instead of several months. One sniff through the gate and they were all over us, bounding and jumping (well, K. was) and grinning. On our first walk, she reminded me I was to toss her exactly five apples, not three, not six, as the game has been played since our first meeting five years ago. She still dutifully bites each one before stacking it to mark it as being tossed, in case I got any ideas about throwing the same one twice. Thunder still spooks her, but now she didn’t wait for an invitation to jump up on the bed and wedge between us for comfort; she knew she’d be dutifully soothed. She’s still terrible on a leash, still dawdles up the jungle road sniffing out palm nuts, still loves to splash in the surf then roll in the sand, ideally if there’s something dead there, and the deader the better. Fortunately, she still loves her baths, standing patiently as we lather, rinse and repeat as many times as necessary to de-stink her. We could return every summer for the next decade and she’d likely be the same, this self-proclaimed sovereign of San Pancho. Long may she reign.