Fortunately, we live out in the country. Thus only a few people would have wondered why we spent well over half an hour yesterday screaming "ZuZu, come!" into increasing darkness.
However, the bad news is that some of those few people are cat lovers, and our dog's name is ZuZu, so they might have been listening smugly, thinking, "I'm glad we don't have a disobedient dog."
What perplexed us was that until recently ZuZu didn't behave weirdly. Basically she was a normal dog. I mean, look at that sweet face. Could this canine drive her owners into, not quite madness, but definitely major irritation?
Yes. She could.
ZuZu is becoming more catlike. Now, we don't have anything against cats. I'm more fond of them than my wife, but aside from their bird-killing habit, Laurel is OK with cats. She just doesn't want our dog to act like one.
Yet this is what's happening. Hopefully we're not going to wake up one morning and find a snarling 65 pound feline stalking us, but that's the trendline ZuZu appears to be on. Here's why I say this.
Refusal to come when called. Yesterday, like I always do prior to our evening dog walk, I put ZuZu's harness and blinking light on her, then opened our front door to let her out while I put on my dog walking shoes and clothes. When I went outside just a minute or two after ZuZu, she was nowhere to be seen.
Which was unusual. Usually she's sitting right there, waiting for me.
I called her. Then I called some more. Hearing me, Laurel came outside. Laurel is the alpha human in ZuZu's eyes, as she does the dog training. So when Laurel yelled in a commanding voice, "ZuZu, come!" and no dog appeared, we knew there was a problem.
We kept calling ZuZu for a long time. We walked around a good share of our ten acres, yelling "ZuZu" and "ZuZu, come!" We got worried that our dog had been attacked by coyotes, or wandered up to the road and been hit by a car.
Then, when it was almost completely dark, I turned around in our yard and saw ZuZu trotting up, blue light blinking, as if nothing was wrong. Ready for my walk now, was her expression.
Our theory, based on some sleuthing by Laurel this morning, is that ZuZu was happily chewing on some remnants of a dead deer in the brush not far from the fenced dog yard at the back of our house. Which means, ZuZu must have heard us calling the entire time.
Her brain just was so engrossed in whatever she was doing -- again, likely chewing on a deer bone, or whatever -- ZuZu felt no desire to obey the "Come!" command that Laurel had taught her. Because she gets amply rewarded with dog treats when she obeys that command, until recently ZuZu reliably came when we yelled "Come!"
However, we'd both been noticing that it was taking her longer to come back to us. Hence, her behavior has been getting more cat-like.
In my first marriage, when cats were the family pet, I recall wandering around the house for many minutes, calling our cat's name, because there was no sign of the cat and I couldn't be sure that it hadn't gotten outside somehow. Eventually I noticed the cat sitting on top of a tall bookcase that I'd passed by numerous times while calling for it.
It looked at me with the utterly catlike expression of, I heard my name, but I didn't feel any need to move since I was completely comfortable just sitting here.
That's totally normal cat behavior. Dogs, though, are supposed to come when called. So that's one reason we're worried that ZuZu is turning into a dog-cat hybrid.
Fussy eating. Here's another sign of our dog's cattishness.
ZuZu used to devour her food extremely rapidly as soon as her bowl was put down on the floor. We theorized this was because she had been a stray before we adopted her from a Portland shelter. Eat when you can, as fast as you can, since it may be awhile before more food appears seemed like a stray's motto.
And ZuZu was pleasingly omnivorous. She liked broccoli when we mixed it in to her kibble and canned dog food. Ditto with canned pumpkin. ZuZu wolfed it all down.
No more. Along with not reliably coming when called, our dog now looks upon her food bowl a lot like I remember how cats eat: fussily.
My recollection is that cats who have graced my life (I'd never say that I owned a cat, since that word implies a higher degree of control than cats I've experienced provide to humans) would turn up their nose if, say, I mistakenly bought some cans of "Fancy Tuna" rather than "Extra Fancy Tuna."
You screwed up, bozo, our cat would speak wordlessly after sniffing its bowl. Then it would go on a hunger strike until Extra Fancy Tuna returned to the cat food cupboard.
ZuZu isn't quite that fussy.
She has, though, developed some eating habits that remind me of myself when I was young. Now our dog won't eat her kibble and canned food if broccoli is in her bowl. Ditto with pumpkin. Even if we put broccoli and pumpkin in separate containers, if they're close to her dog food bowl, she won't eat until the offending food is removed from the vicinity.
Hopefully ZuZu is just going through a catlike phase of her dog life, and isn't experiencing a feline transformation. If she starts purring when patted, we'll really worry.
For now we're working on restoring ZuZu's understanding of what "Come!" means. And she's been eating her food without much of a problem so long as we keep items like broccoli and pumpkin far away from her bowl.
It's difficult enough to understand why other people do what they do, and people can talk.
Dogs are much more of a mystery, since they inhabit a canine psychological realm that is off-limits to us humans. So we'll adapt to ZuZu's eccentricities, while trying to get her back on track on the come-when-called and eating fronts.