Recently Laurel excitedly pointed out to me a news item about dogs sharing 75% of human DNA, or something along those lines. I wasn’t impressed, since I knew that chimpanzees and people are 98% genetically similar, which makes our dog a much more distant relative. And the more I play “buddy ball” with Serena, the more I am convinced that even that 75% may be a decided overestimate. For those unfamiliar with dog play paraphernalia, “buddy ball” is the brand name of Serena’s light-up-in-the-dark ball, the light-up feature being a necessity given her underdeveloped retriever skills, as it allows me to throw the ball for her at night and be able to find it myself, and then throw it again—to myself.
Occasionally, however, seemingly at random, Serena does manage to bring the buddy ball back to the general neighborhood where I am standing. This usually happens when I am standing at the top of our driveway, which descends fairly steeply into the carport that holds our two cars. When I throw buddy ball down the hill into our lawn area, Serena doesn’t run back up the hill with the ball, because this would be too much work. Instead, she runs sideways, ending up at the edge of the carport, where, night after night, we play out the same frustrating drama.
“Bring it here, Serena! Bring it here!,” I yell encouragingly from the top of the driveway. Serena looks blankly at me, wondering what I’m talking about. “Bring it here! Good dog, good dog!” I wave my hands excitedly, like Laurel has told me to do, since this is supposed to make Serena eager to please her excited owner. Serena chews her buddy ball cud for a while, then begins walking slowly up the driveway. We both know what is going to happen. But I play out my role, and she plays out hers.
“Good girl, that’s it! All the way, bring it up all the way to me!” Maybe I’m too verbose, and should just use guttural German commands (Serena is half German Shepherd, the half that walks slowly because she feels like it), but I always feel the need to spell out exactly what she should do. Serena trudges up the driveway, then, universally, pauses almost exactly halfway up. She looks at me standing at the top. Then she looks back at the two cars at the bottom. Then she opens her mouth, drops the buddy ball, and watches it roll down the hill until it comes to rest precisely under one of the cars, having caromed off the garage door and rebounding with just enough kinetic energy to reach the most inaccessible spot in the carport.
I stare at Serena. I mutter, “You useless pet!” under my breath. I trudge down the hill, get down on my knees, reach under the car, and retrieve the buddy ball. Then I walk back up the hill and throw buddy ball again. And the game goes on. What amazes me, almost as much as my being willing to put up with this crap night after night, is that it never dawns on Serena that dropping the ball on a sharply inclined driveway is going to make the ball roll far away. Wouldn’t evolution have given dogs some insights into what happens if you drop a round bone, say, on a steep mountain? Wouldn’t dog genes be selected for that understood it is better to drop things that might roll on a flat place, rather than a round place? I think these sorts of thoughts every day, as I walk up and down the driveway, retrieving Serena’s ball so I can throw it for her again without her having to break much of a sweat.
And I wonder how it came to be that dogs are so much less smart than we humans. I wonder and wonder while walking up and down the hill so Serena can have some pre-dinner exercise, and I continue wondering as I take her inside to fix her dry food/canned food/broccoli/cheddar cheese chunks meal, and I wonder still as I give Serena her chew-stick dessert if she has cleaned her bowl (which, to be honest, she gets even if she hasn’t). How did we humans get to be so smart, and dogs so dumb? Well, I can’t spend any more time pondering this question. Serena just came in and gave me her “let’s play” look. Can’t keep her waiting.