On Understanding John Henry

Any caring and considerate new dog owner has to do his or her homework before bringing a new dog into the home. If you’re a bookish type, this almost certainly involves spending a lot of money on how-to books, dog body language books, dog psychology books, and so on.

The ideal number of books to buy is “too many to read” – then you put them all on the new bookcase you also bought and let the knowledge in them seep out into the air so you learn by osmosis while watching Game of Thrones.

If, by chance, you crack open one of those books on dog behavior, something very quickly becomes apparent: dogs are not simple creatures. Why does your dog do that weird thing it does? The answer will always be, It depends.

First, let me explain that I do not live in a complicated household. We are simple folk, living simple lives.

Why am I sad? Because I am hungry, tired, ill, or my favorite Game of Thrones character has just been brutally mutilated.

Why am I now happy? Because I have eaten, slept, taken a pill, or I have chosen a new favorite Game of Thrones character who, this time, will almost certainly live well past the end of the final season.

We are not complex organisms.

The Reverend John Henry, on the other hand…he has layers. Like a little fluffy onion. (Important side note: onions are poisonous to dogs. You’re welcome.)

For example, occasionally, while out on a walk, JH will suddenly drop onto his back and roll around in the grass. The reasons for this are, apparently…it depends. Maybe he has an itch. Or he smells like shampoo and would much prefer to smell like dog. Or he is trying to cover himself in the scent of his rival (like Rick Grimes, Walking Dead fans!). Or maybe he’s just a lovable buffoon. Like Boris Johnson but without the ambition and ridiculous mannerisms that are fooling no one any more.

The books on the subject cannot seem to completely agree.

The solution to all of our John Henry questions is clear: we just have to go with whatever makes sense, because that’s apparently what the Dog Expert Community is doing. If something is too weird, we’ll ask his vet, who seems to love seeing him as much as we do. Otherwise, we take our cues from JH.

If he stands by his food bowl (and it’s around meal time), then we feed him. If he punches us with his little paw, then we’ll pick him up and cuddle him. If he moves slightly out of our reach on the sofa, then we’ll really really try to stop stroking him. If he sits patiently by the bed, wagging his little tail, we’ll understand that tonight is not a Jump Up On The Bed By Myself night, and we’ll lift him ourselves. If he brings something for us to throw for him, then we’ll throw it. And then go to get it again when he decides he’s not going all that way for a toy when there’s a basket of perfectly serviceable replacements right beside him.

You’re in charge, JH. Luckily, you can’t read, so you may not yet know.

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