My dog, Gator, has developed many ways to tell me what he desires. For instance, we have wind chimes on the back door for the dogs to ring to let us know they want to go outside. Gator has extended the use of the wind chimes to indicate to me that he needs my assistance. He will ring the bells to get my attention, then run to the sofa and stare at it. I have learned that he is telling me that his tennis ball is stuck under the sofa and he needs me to rescue it for him. Or if I am upstairs too long (where my dogs are not allowed so that my cats can have a safe haven), Gator will ring the bell and wait by the stairs. “Mom, I miss you. Please come back.” I am always happy to help him out.
But there came a time when I could not figure out what my dog was trying to tell me. Here is the scene. It was dinner time (for humans). During dinner, Gator stays in his bed in the corner of the eating area of the kitchen. Hattie, my other dog, stays in her unlocked crate at the end of the peninsula separating the eating area from the rest of the house. The mud room, with the door to the backyard, is around the corner from Gator’s bed. My husband and I had just finished eating dinner in the kitchen. As I was clearing the table, Gator went into the mud room to ring the bell. But he immediately left door, meaning he did not want to go out. So what did he want? I had no idea. He just stood there and looked at me expectantly.
Gator did this repeatedly for about a month; not every night, but most of them. We thought, “Maybe it makes him happy to ring the bell, because Mom is going to pay attention to him.” We even started singing, “ If you’re happy and you know it, ring the bell …” We were flummoxed.
But eventually this behavior became annoying. So one night after Gator rang the bell and came back into the kitchen, I got angry. I told him, “If you don’t want to go out, you need to stop ringing.” I grabbed his collar and proceeded to drag him out of the kitchen. But when we got next to Hattie’s crate, Hattie jumped up and started barking aggressively at Gator. That’s when the lightbulb went on.
Gator had been trying to tell me, “Mom, I am trapped in the kitchen. I can’t walk past Hattie’s crate to leave. She will attack me. I am ringing the bell because I need help. Please help me.” But Mom was very slow in figuring this out. Smart dog, stupid human.
Hattie is a dog who will guard her food, toys, and, as we had just figured out, her personal space. Her body language did not seem threatening to us humans, but Gator obviously knew she was guarding the passageway out of the kitchen.
Since then, we make Hattie leave her crate right after dinner, and Gator happily trots out of the kitchen. If we forget to get Hattie out of the way, Gator will ring the bell to remind us. I still feel badly that I could not figure out what my boy wanted for such a long time.
So if your dog or cat is interacting with you in an unusual way, put on your thinking cap, and try to figure out what he is trying to say. You might have a lightbulb moment of your own.