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Lincoln learns to be thankful

By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

New things are nothing new when it comes to living with Lincoln. Just like that, my largest male of the litter (now a robust seven year old) makes sudden decisions to change his habits, such as the recent boycott of his $400 Orvis couch-style bed. He’s chosen, instead, to sprawl across my silky white shag (ordered less expensively from Wayfair). “It’s his new thing,” we say, refusing to hit the panic button too early. Besides, we rationalize, “It’s not like he jumps up on the furniture like other dogs.”  Aware of our gossip, Lincoln lifts his head from his lazy-lion position, as though to say, “Can you not talk about me while I’m in the room? I’m trying to get some sleep.” Then he puts his head back down and sighs.

Oh, Lincoln. He may be biologically a dog, but he’s domestically a human. I take him to yappy hour (you read that correctly) at Quite Fetching Barkery in Grafton on Friday nights. The specialty dog shop is literally designed for dogs to be happy. The scene (and I do recommend it) is much like a page from a Dr. Seuss book. There are dogs on the porch, dogs wearing a torch; dogs on the chair, dogs in your hair; dogs with balls, and dogs wearing shawls. There are dogs playing and dogs straying, dogs fooling and dogs drooling. You get the picture.  

Amongst the disarray, there is Lincoln, appearing somewhat of a misfit, seated politely at the heels of the dog owners like a nettling nanny. He has no problem with the ever-present dogs. He smiles fondly at the little yappers who wear little vests, and admires the extra-large Saint Bernards with the spiked collars; yet still, he prefers the human.

One of his recent new things, nevertheless, has touched me. Every morning he waits at the top of the stairs for the sound of his food being poured into his dish. The jingling noise has become his wake-up alarm to start the day on a Nutrish note. More remarkable is the fact that –upon hearing the food jingle – he’ll romp down the stairs if and only if I am the one pouring his food. In other words, he will only move to my jingle. He’s learned that my teenage son (now away at college) is a bit selfish and has failed to meet all of his needs in the past. He’s also learned that my husband, though a sturdy pack leader, seems a bit distracted in the morning. Both men are “into themselves” in the eyes of Lincoln. Henceforth, caregiving has become my cross to bear. Lincoln will wait patiently outside of my bedroom door for as long as it takes. On the rare occasion that I am sick and/or sleeping late, he offers me the same smile and tail wag when I open the door. Lincoln never judges.

Through the years, our connection and respect for one another’s quirky habits has deepened, and I’ve grown to appreciate our mornings together. I pull him out of his rainy-day funks (the sun will come out tomorrow, Lincoln) and he reminds me that, doggone it, the story is done and has already been done. The horse is dead; let it go, he says to me with pleading eyes. There is more to life than work and words and Zumba choreography. There are balls and walks and car rides. There is the Gas Man to greet at the Full Serve station (dog owner perk) and a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru to be had.

More often than not, I find myself negotiating with the pedigree. “A few more paragraphs, then we’ll play, Lincoln.” He grumbles, lies down, and concedes, head over paws. What choice does he have? By virtue of being a dog, he is door-blocked, completely dependent on me for necessary social interaction. He can’t grab his keys and cut loose. He needs me the way I need my work. I am his purpose. Lincoln never fails to make room for me in his life, yet I’m always so busy.

Perhaps my guilt, coupled with my general appreciation for dogs, has subconsciously inspired me to plant a morning kiss on Lincoln’s head while he begins the morning gobble-down. It’s a habit that just sort of emerged through the years. He waits at the top of the stairs. I pour his food. He rushes to his dish. I give him a kiss on the head and rub behind his ears. Good boy, Lincoln.

Then came another “new thing”.

During a recent morning, I must have been distracted and somehow missed the morning kiss on his head. Consequently, he turned away from his food, faced me and gave me a sloppy, Snoopy-like kiss back! He actually remembered that part of the routine?  Convinced that the behavior was coincidental, I performed the experiment a second time the next morning, leaving the kiss out of our routine again. Same behavior! He paused from his dish, faced me straight on and lapped my face before returning to his bowl.

Lincoln has been conditioned to practice gratitude – he’s thankful for the morning, his food, and me. How holistically Pavlovian!

I’ve since considered collecting a new data sample, and changing the variable to pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving morning. Would Lincoln stop gobbling to say thank you?

I’m thinking all bets are off, but I’ll keep you posted.

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