I don't have children; I have dogs. Although I'm spared report cards and curfew, many of the other responsibilities are quite similar, and some of the conversations too. Last week at the dog park I overheard one dog mom describe her Yorkie as "a canine Einstein" for having figured out how to work the pedal-operated trash can. While she sang her dog's praises in obedience training and parlor tricks, my male dog trotted over with beseeching eyes; he had grass lodged in his harness and a yogurt cup stuck on his snout.
Let's just come out and say it: I have a stupid dog. Rich in neither book smarts (his canine intelligence assessment score was "Gosh, he's cute") nor street smarts (did you know that humans love a rousing game of Keep Away should you happen to slip your leash?), Kiepher is for all intents and purposes not the brightest bulb in the box. A perfectly-executed command is forgotten half an hour later. Want to keep a treat safe? Hide it under a bowl; he'll never find it. Nearly any word delivered while looking at him will result in an explosion of wagging tail and flopping tongue. He still does not quite understand stairs.
Don't get me wrong; Kiepher does not suffer for his misfortune. If anything he benefits from the pity taken on him by comparing him to my other dog, an intelligent and fickle Boston Terrier mix we've nicknamed "The Puppet Master." Having a stupid dog isn't much of a bragging right but it does have its up sides.
1. Ignorance is bliss. Stupid dogs are some of the most relentlessly cheerful animals I know. Whether the traits are related I'm not sure, but I do know that what many lack in smarts they make up for with an overwhelming happiness. Living with my smart dog is much like trying to appease a member of royalty in the throes of teenage mood swings; in contrast, I cannot remember a single day that Stupid Dog spent moping on the bed.
2. Every day is an adventure. This is especially true if you don't remember what you did yesterday. Or the day before that. Or that the cat does not like kisses. The fun never ends!
3. You can trust them. If I leave my smart dog uncrated during the day there's no telling what wreckage might await me upon my return. But with my stupid dog I know exactly what to expect. It will never be worse than a shredded paper towel tube, because he's just not smart enough to figure out cabinets.
4. You learn to take things less seriously. A stupid dog's antics force you to lighten up. It's hard to get stuck in your own head when you have a front-row seat to that kind of absurdity. For example, soon after adopting Kiepher I discovered his fondness for stealing my lingerie. He will not chew it but prefers to simply drape it over the couch like a proud hunter displaying his trophies. His triumphant face as I walk through the door again makes me forget whatever concerns had nipped at my heels seconds earlier. (That I would prefer my bras without dog drool has no doubt never crossed his sweet little pea brain.)
5. Their devotion is absolute. This is a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Do I love him because he is such a devoted little dog, or has he become that way because I love him so? He is extremely attention-driven. While food or playtime work as incentives, they don't come close to his need for a hug, a belly rub, a kiss on his softball-sized head. When you are near him you are his world for as long as you'll have him.
Like anything else there are times when I feel frustrated, both with him and with myself. Teaching Kiepher the basic commands necessary for safe ownership, such as recall, is a long and mostly fruitless task. I fear what would happen if he were ever in trouble. I wonder how he, a former stray, ever survived out there. But I am grateful he did.
Last week the city was pummeled with storms. At the first boom of thunder I was startled awake, both from the sound and from a choking pressure on my neck. For there was Kiepher, having thrown his body across my chest with every muscle tensed the way he does when he is on guard dog alert. His eyes were fixed in a steely gaze out the bedroom window and they flicked back to mine with a fierce determination. At each new wave of thunder he would press his paws on my shoulder a little harder and touch his muzzle to my cheek as if to say It's OK. I will protect you. That 25 pounds of mutt on my windpipe wasn't deterring the storm was irrelevant. Stupid Dog was doing what he knew he could. He didn't need to be a canine Einstein to do it, either.