We are living in the Age of the Dog and no one, least of all me, is acting cool about it.
My dog Caesar studies engineering, with the hope of one day working for the council in the department of parks.
He thinks obsessively about walks, and doesn’t like other dogs.
In particular, he hates dogs that seem to think they’re faster than him. “They’re not,” he says. “I’m the fastest dog in the park.”
Yesterday, he ate half a packet of grain waves and when we spoke to him about it he blamed the cat (we don’t have a cat).
And then there’s my childhood dog, Ted.
Ted was fired from McDonalds after eating all the cheeseburgers, and now he won’t even talk about it.
He doesn’t trust people on bicycles because once he fell off a bike and is now traumatised. Poor Teddy.
Oh. And then there’s my friend’s dog Bella. First and foremost, she’s a feminist. That’s why she growls at men, especially ones in hats. She is also sassy, mostly because she was born in the ghetto and is now completely spoilt. We’ve rewritten the song ‘Jenny from the Block’ to make it about Bella and she used to have “a little now she has a lot…” etc.
If you do not have a dog, or identify as a ‘non-dog person’ – you’re angry. And you probably have some questions.
How can a dog possibly study engineering when their paws make it difficult to submit assignments electronically? Why are you pretending like your dog can speak? How on earth did a dog get a job at McDonalds? That’s extremely irresponsible. And how do you know if your dog identifies as a feminist? Furthermore – DON’T YOU HAVE BETTER THINGS TO DO THAN MAKE UP PERSONALITIES FOR YOUR PETS?
“I’m suspicious I suppose. Why? Because you can’t trust anyone. The second you do, they dig up your bone and eat it when you’re not looking. Just yesterday at the park, I befriended a young pup named Gizmo. Seemed nice enough. We talked about the weather and the condition of the grass. I then excused myself to do a poo behind a tree and when I returned, Gizmo had stolen my ball. What a fuckface.” – Basil
And here’s what dog people are often too afraid to admit: We’ve all developed complex and nuanced personalities for our dogs that are based on their behaviour.
You find me someone who says their dog doesn’t have a personality because they’re an animal and I’ll show you a liar.
Virtually everyone with a dog knows what their human voice sounds like. Caesar’s is high and excited, and he pronounces some words wrong because the world is confusing, whereas Ted is a man of few words, and moans every syllable in his old age.
It’s gotten to the point now, where I can walk down the street, spot a dog, and know immediately what it does for a living. And that is the substance of a vast majority of my conversations.
As I pass dog owners on the street, I look at them knowingly: “Your little poodle is a receptionist, and yes, she’s high maintenance… When she types you can hear her acrylic nails on the keyboard…”
If there were recording devices inside people’s homes, we would not believe half the stuff they say to their dogs. Sometimes when I’m on the phone to my mum, she says, “Sorry, can you hold on a moment? ‘Ted! Are you serious? Can you not see I’m on the phone? What do you want? What are you asking for? You’re being silly. Do you need water? Go and ask dad, you’re driving us all mad.'”
It is those conversations, along with the ones we have when we get home from work and insist they tell us how their day was, where we begin to create an imaginary response.
Because we’ve all completely lost the plot.
But also because it’s a form of harmless escapism that brings out a sense of playfulness which we lose as we grow older.
“Eight egg whites. That’s what I had for breakfast this morning. And a long black. No sugar. I run a boxing class at the local park every morning, 5:45am. 10-15 clients usually. I eat after that, around 7am. Good for the metabolism. I was picked on at school. They used to call me ‘frowny face’, mostly because of the constant frown on my face. I’ll never forget it. 40kg deadlift and 8% body fat. I wish they could see me now.” – Nathan
When we lie on the floor with a dog, speaking to it, playing with it, we are ultimately practising mindfulness and allowing ourselves to enter a state of flow. It is not an activity that has an intended outcome. There is no goal in mind. Simply, it’s play for the sake of play.
They appeal to our basic human need to nurture and care for something other than ourselves.
Speaking about our dogs reaction to last night’s Masterchef elimination is far less confronting than exploring, say, the war in Syria, or Gaza, or the state of American politics.
On top of being a tool of escapism, it’s also a tool of survival.
Because no matter how terrifying the world gets, Caesar is always there, ready to talk about the ongoing feud between him and his arch-enemy, Doug the Wippet.