A lexicon of beaglery

By Ann Ivins

A few months ago, a friend of mine on the-site-that-is-not-Twitter posted this article: “Good Dog, Smart Dog,” a look at changing ideas about the cognitive abilities of the canine set.  The short version – hey, dogs might be smarter than those brainiac science-types thought. My layperson reaction?  “Finally, some scientists who actually live with dogs.”

A beagle I once knew (not a breed that ever makes the “smartest” list, by the way) would purposely sit and stare intently at our French doors and squeak frantically to go outside, allow the then-frantic male mutt to assert his dominance by rushing out first as the door opened… and immediately drop to the ground to indicate that she wanted to stay in, thank you. As soon as the door closed, she would hop to her feet, head to the middle of the rug and do the rolling, squirming dance of beagle joy. The mutt would be left staring bleakly in through the glass, gaslighted yet again into losing possession of the indoor realm. And again. And again.

Do dogs think? Of course they do, about dog things and in dog ways. That one small hound changed forever my understanding of the possibility of canine manipulation and the effect of sheer doggie force of personality. We developed an entirely new vocabulary to describe the machinations of The Beagle Known as Alice.

Poobutt was probably the first and most often used word in the beagle lexicon. As anyone with a short-haired dog knows, zero hour is quite obvious, as is the urgency of the impending event, and it is a truth universally unacknowledged by dog lovers that we all spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing the condition of the canine anus. The subtle variations of the term lie in context and intonation, from a casual,”Hey, does Alice have poobutt?” to a frantic dash to the door accompanied by a wail of,”Pooooooobuttttttttt!

Next came stealthbeagle. A dog with a jingling collar who can nevertheless sneak past two adults and a strategically positioned chair on a microscopic apartment balcony and get halfway down two flights of stairs before being noticed obviously has some kind of special mode that renders her silent and invisible. I believe to this day that she held her tags in her mouth to get by us, and more than once. Stealthbeagle can occur at any time, in any place, and like PMS and bad potato salad, you won’t realize it’s happened until it’s far too late.

Bedtime behavior gave rise to an entirely distinct subset of the beagle lexicon. The Ooze was the inexplicable method by which without ever visibly moving a 25-pound dog could ascend in mere minutes from proper placement at the foot of the bed to an excruciatingly uncomfortable position jabbed into my armpit ; The Wedge was the position which was somehow intrinsic to the maneuver, nose first, front paws tucked, low and streamlined. Pillowsnatcher occurred when (never a morning person) I would blearily open my eyes, expecting to see the husband, and immediately suffer severe cognitive shock when confronted instead by Alice’s big black nose and floppy ears firmly ensconced on his pillow, sometimes with the blanket tucked up around her. Finally, when patience was exhausted and opportunistic deafness made her impervious to “Get DOWN,” the mysterious force of canine physics known as leadbeagle would manifest itself. A pinpoint gravitational force of incalculable strength would suddenly exponentially increase the weight of the perpetrator without increasing her mass, rendering her nearly impossible to dislodge.

Then there was Alice’s determination to rise, shine, poop and EAT no later than five in the morning. Recalcitrant humans were subjected to an interminable chorus of jangling dogtags punctuated with the squeak of “don’t make me crap on the floor” – a bluff, but effective, until one day brilliance struck and we replaced her loose tags with one that slid on. Silently. “Ha ha, dog,” the husband and I foolishly gloated, and for a few mornings peace reigned until at least six … until, with the heart-pounding shock reserved for the fatuously complacent, we both leaped out of bed one godawful predawn to the WHAPWHAPWHAPWHAP of some kind of low-flying aircraft. Named Alice. Who had discovered the sonic potential of helicopter ears, and used it assiduously to the end of her long life.

In the end, the joys of living with a smart, sneaky and yes, funny dog were ample compensation for the irritations. Picture Snoopy’s trademark jig, body whipping into opposite c-curves, ears flying, paws waving, and then imagine it performed on the ground with a fuzzy pink tummy bared to the sky – and you have the beagle dance, the ultimate expression of beagle triumph and glee and proof positive, if any were needed, that Charles Schulz lived with and loved some little hound dogs. There was cakeface, an expression of unbelievable do-or-die primitive savagery that I saw only once: as Alice soared through the air, fangs bared, lips drawn back, on a direct collision course with an extremely expensive Italian cappuccino cake left over intact from a faculty party. I rounded the corner of the living room at the precise moment of flight, a millisecond before she scored a defiant nosehit into the ganache. I think my monkey brain took over; I know I was frozen in place as she scuttled away with a faceful of forbidden pastry.

Most important, though, and always best was the beaglenap: a nap taken on a comfortable couch, preferably mid-day, with a warm and dozy dog curled up behind my knees. Sometimes she’d poke her nose over my hip within stroking reach, then resettle with a delicate grunt of contentment. Sometimes I would wake to a muzzle lightly perched upon my foot as she surveyed the world from her blanketed throne. She and I were nappers by nature, napping companions as a matter of course, and I will never again feel her wedge her cold nose into the crook of my bare knee, or know her snuffly breath on my leg, or warm my feet in the curve of her body.

I’d give a great deal more than most people might imagine for just one more beaglenap.

for Alice (1996-2009)

Categories: Family/Marriage, Funny

6 replies »

  1. RIP, Alice.

    As a boy who was socialized as much by a pack of Irish Terriers as he was by people (the dogs probably had more impact because we could see eye to eye, literally), expounding on the intelligence of dogs is a good sermon for the choir.

    I’ll admit that when Megan (who was six months older than me) passed away in her twelfth year, i wrote her letters for quite a while. Even all these years later, not much more than a couple of days passes between having some thoughts of her.

    I rank my preferred company thusly: plants, dogs, fish…cats and people are dead even, being both occasionally enjoyable and generally annoying.

    P.S. Nice way to return and great to see you back, Ann.