Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reading the Street

Lilly, my parents' dog, is a sweetheart. When you're sick she'll lie down on the floor next to your bed and keep you company. She very rarely barks, and instead communicates using a variety of whines, all with different pitches and tones, to let us know she's hungry, wants to go outside, or is excited to see someone. When her food bowl is brought to her outside she prances merrily until it's put down. She occasionally jumps up to greet people, but usually she returns to the ground quickly. Certainly, there's no question: Lilly has many admirable traits. She is a good dog.

However, despite what might be expected of a German Shepherd, she's never struck me as particularly smart. She completed an obedience school class, and then returned for remedial work when she was about two years old. Of course, practice makes perfect, and while they strongly encouraged me to practice my trumpet every day for a couple of years, my parents haven't done much to ensure that Lilly continued her education and practice at home.

Now, at over 4 years old, it's not clear what Lilly remembers/learned from her training. She sometimes acknowledges her name by lifting her head, but rarely comes when called. She's trained my father to play a form of fetch in which he throws, she brings the ball or stick back to within about fifteen feet, and only relinquishes it once another ball is thrown. After the final walk of the night, we have successfully conditioned her to sit and wait for her treat, but outside of that context, and without a treat forthcoming, Lilly simply looks on quizzically as I encourage her to do tricks.

Despite not retaining much memory of her schooling, I still hold out hope for Lilly, because I believe she's an inquisitive reader, and as I always tell my writing students, reading can make you better at just about anything. While the house is filled with books, I'm not suggesting that Lilly is a big fan of literature, rather she's a street reader, a reader of scents.

When my parents take Lilly on her final walk of the night around 10, they let her sniff around a little, but especially as Autumn descends and it becomes colder, the walk is more of a march. We complete the .75 mile loop in about 15 minutes, however we have to pull Lilly away from her reading in order to make it in around that time.

Once I had the idea of Lilly reading in my head I couldn't get it out. I hate being bothered while in the midst of a book, and if some tried to pull me away while I was reading the last few sentences of a page, I might snap at her. Lilly never does, which I think is a testament to her good nature.

So when I was dog-sitting a few weeks ago I decided that I would give Lilly all the time she wanted to Read the Street. That same .75 mile loop that usually takes 15 minutes, took us nearly an 1.5 hours, but I'm sure Lilly was satisfied with her read. I have yet to determine exactly what constitutes a page, but I like to imagine each area she sniffs as a poem that she's studying carefully so she'll remember every detail. Lilly is especially lucky to read a book that's constantly changing, and I hope to give her another chance to read it in full the next time I visit.


Sarah said...

I don't walk dogs much, but feel much the same way about making them keep walking when they are so interested in the smells they pass. Really enjoyed this!

lorne said...

This is mostly a just reading of Lilly. Funny, I suggested, just the other day, that you should practice your trumpet.