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Roscoe’s ruse: Trading up to turkey

I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.

My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.

James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.

During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.

Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”

I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.

Roscoe uses a different strategy.

He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.

He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.

At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.

This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.

After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”

After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.

I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.

It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.

Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.

Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.

Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.


Comment from smitty
Time December 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

At my house, the dogs have always trained my girlfriend to be generous at the dinner table. I have no problem with the dogs getting goodies, but I prefer it not to be at the dinner table.

But neither my girlfriend nor the dogs give a hoot about my quirky preference.

Now, most of the dogs we’ve adopted have chosen me as their favorite human…with the exception of-naturally-dinner time.

I remember Honey-a beagle mix-that had my girlfriend passing her food with each bark. It got worse-or my girlfriend got better educated by Honey-over time and near the end of Honey’s life the only moment at dinner that she wasn’t barking was while she was consuming the last handoff of food. Several times they left the dinner table and went outside on the porch in order that I be able to eat in peace.

I recall one instance where Honey snatched a ham sandwich from a plate on the table while my girlfriend’s back was turned for a moment. Honey somehow was careful to not rattle the plate, nor leave any lick-marks, and was able to quickly inhale the sandwich and take on the appearance of total innocence when my girlfriend turned back to the table. My girlfriend was at first unsure she had put a sandwich on the plate.

Late in Honey’s life we adopted Stanley from the streets near my business. Honey demonstrated for Stan how food was to be begged for at the table and soon he would station himself on one side of my girlfriend’s chair, with Honey on the other side. At least Stanley begged quietly.

Generally, the dogs would get food from my plate only when I would accidentally drop or spill something. Since this was usually accompanied by my uttering a curse, it wasn’t long before Honey-upon hearing me curse-would immediately race around the chair and Stanley to where I sit, her nose and eyes scanning the floor for the dropped food.

Stanley eventually figured this out too, but Honey, though smaller and older, was much faster off the line.

John & Ace, thanks for sparking these nice memories.

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time December 7, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Hilarious. Thank you, Smitty, for sharing your’s.

Comment from kelly
Time December 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm

great stories, John & Smitty!

Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time December 7, 2010 at 6:49 pm

John and Smitty, between the two of you I can’t stop laughing. Smitty, it is every Beagle’s sacred duty to get food. They take some kind of an oath to this effect before the Head Beagle. Our kitchen trash can is now weighted down with two bricks and protected behind a sort of cardboard fence which we have to take down when company comes. (Tacky…) We went out the other day. My husband took out all the trash and added a new liner to the can before returning it to its spot behind the blockade. We returned home to find it still upright, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, with its shredded liner hanging on the outside of it. The Beagle has now learned that he’s in danger from the bricks if he topples the can. So he has figured out how to pull the liner out in search of whatever may be lurking within.