Friday, May 31, 2013

Can Dogs Smile?

By Linda Grupp Boutin

Have you seen the posts on Facebook and YouTube, dogs smiling with their pearly whites glistening? I must say, those particular shots were never what I considered a smile. Being pragmatic about canine nature, teeth showing on a dog's face usually signals a snarl to me, not a happy dog. So when Star began flashing her odd "smile" at me, I tried to convince her that when she did this I didn't like it too much. I called it her "ugly face."

For a time, she got the message and stopped that particular behavior much to my relief. However, when you pet her in the way she loves, it seems Star cannot help herself and her toothy grin appears. I shake my head and wonder how in the world she ever came up with this odd way of doing things. I've never captured this look in a photograph and I doubt I will ever try.

After a year and a half, Star remains unpredictable for me. When I tried to introduce her to Gary's uncle last week, she shied away and responded very negatively. Just a few days later at our house, she would not leave his side to the point that when they went walking Uncle Bernie carried Star's leash! She had the best of times while he visited because the more she snuggled up to him insisting on constant petting, the more he obliged. We call this around here, "Star Heaven." She sparkles while receiving those pets around her ears.

Tonight she and Kindu both got washed by Gary. When we brought Star home that first day, we bathed her at a friend's before driving home with her. As I have mentioned before, basenjis abhor water. Our girl approaches it like it is dangerous. She has learned however the benefits of bathing. The payoff comes in the form of less itchy, more comfortable coat and skin. So tonight she fought less and enjoyed the sensation of having shampoo massaged into her coat. She still detests water in her face, but seemed to enjoy some of the rest of the cleaning-up process.

After drying off, she snuggled up with me to enjoy a concert at the White House of Carole King music. Sometimes she glanced over her shoulder at my sour notes (yes I sang along with every song), other times she flashed me that smile of hers this time in an effort to keep my hand petting her. And it finally came to me, while preparing for the show ring dogs do learn to show off their teeth to the judges. Tonight I just enjoyed her shenanigans and didn't judge what might be going on in that basenji brain of hers.

There is a process we go through while learning about our pets. We get to know one another and begin to be able to predict how the other will respond. Our furry companions learn our habits too. Kindu knows when I am preparing to leave the house, take him for a walk, or prepare a meal. He watches me and Star keeps an eye on him and is learning fast. She knows keys are used with doors, leashes precede a walk, and most evenings we stay home.

So we continue the getting to know you process around here while Star gains confidence that she has found a forever home that she loves. I will always wonder about what happened to her during those years before she came to us. But every positive experience leads to a more confident, relaxed basenji girl. And that does make me smile!