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What one dog will do for birthdays

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“Sing.”

Ollie looked up, his head cocked as soon as he heard the word.

Carol said it again and now his tail wagged just the way he looks when he hears the words “dinner” or “walk.” Two things he loves.

We looked at each other. Was this a coincidence? Had Ollie just felt like being sociable or was he really interested in something else?

Some dogs that have been members of the family clearly understood a number of words. “No,” was a command that stopped Binky in his tracks. Depending on the inflection used, he would cower like a naughty child, which could be the case after stretching his neck – and he was a big dog – across the table, tongue extended, toward the platter of turkey. The word was a scolding. There were other times when the word was used as a warning. He’d wait intently to see what might happen next.

But Ollie, he’s either oblivious to “no,” as the case when he’s discovers some stinky thing to roll in, or seemingly just doesn’t hear us. Such selective hearing is the case when he tries the head on the table trick.

That’s when he needs a little persuasion, like a push.

I wonder if this is a case of selective comprehension. Is it a matter of timing that triggers the reaction that we take to mean as understanding? When he’s loose, running in the yard or more likely with his nose to the ground following some intriguing scent, he’ll respond to Carol’s dinner call when it’s dinnertime. Then he’ll show up at the door anxious to come in. Try it at other times and it’s as useless as the command “come Ollie,” which has little effect regardless of whenever used.

“Dinner” works or doesn’t work all based on the time.

But of course, this doesn’t explain his reaction to “sing.”

It’s not something we’ve tried to teach him and there’s no timing when it comes to singing. Ollie pays little attention when Carol gets out her guitar and sings for the joy of it. I don’t join in – a good thing – and Ollie is content listening.

When we sing together, which is limited to birthdays, it’s different.

With members of the family in Wyoming and Asia, singing happy birthday over the phone has become a tradition. We started doing it for the kids and then the grandkids and then we started getting the calls in return. It can be quite a few calls in a day.

We had two family birthdays last week – Eddie, who is in Hong Kong, and Natalie in Jackson.

My son, Jack, told us what time they would be celebrating Eddie’s birthday halfway around the globe. It being a school night they were planning a low-key event with a few gifts and a party with friends on the weekend. That was a call to be made early in the morning our time. On the other hand, the call to Natalie needed to be made at night.

“We can’t forget, it’s Eddie’s birthday,” Carol said as I started the kettle for breakfast coffee.

She had the phone and put it on speaker. But before dialing she asked, “Are we ready to sing?”

Ollie heard us and bound into the room.

What was he expecting?

Carol hummed to get the proper pitch. I chimed in. Ollie howled.

That made sense. After all it was discordant. He was complaining.

After a couple of rings, Jack answered. Ollie watched us and listened. When Eddie got on the line, Carol and I broke into chorus. Ollie was right there with us. He was into it. This was not a bark, but rather an extended howl that drowned us out. Eddie was laughing and that inspired Ollie to elevate his contribution by an octave. Finally, we just let Ollie sing.

That was it. He was done and we talked with no additional commentary from Ollie.

That evening we called Natalie. Ollie wasn’t to be left out. He was there as soon as the phone went on speaker. The singing hound was ready to perform.

It was a beautiful thing, if you like dogs.

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