I learn something from my dogs everyday. It may be something as simple as keeping the toilet paper on the vanity with a puppy in the house or putting my socks away if I have any intention of ever wearing them again. If I’m not vigilant about our surroundings and neglect to cue them about environmental changes, the deaf ones will startle when a bicycle whizzes past or the garbage truck roars by. I have learned to slow my brain down when I’m in a rush, and actually sign to Edison and Foster instead of relying on my voice- you know, communicate in a way that they can receive the information.
Today, my little Foster, who weighed in at forty-two pounds today and isn’t so little anymore, taught me something very important about living with deaf dogs, but you need the back story to fully understand.
You see, I’m a wickedly talented dancer and world class singer, so long as I’m in the car and without the company of other humans. Seriously, I’m in the same league as Lady Gaga or Beyonce, except I sing country music and I wear underwear. I put on amazing concerts complete with back up singers and shirtless dancing boys, and I’m mesmerizing up there on that stage. I stop traffic regularly, and I’m sure that is a compliment.
Since I’m driving and thus sitting during my concerts, my dancing is limited to hand movements and head-bobbing. I point, I pump my fist, and occasionally I blow kisses at Eduardo, my lead dancer rocking the Levi’s and Lucchese boots. Today, while dancing along to a medley of Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker and Gretchen Wilson, I realized that Foster was watching every single hand movement. He was very focused, trying hard to process what I was unintentionally saying to him. When I realized what was happening in the passenger seat, I laughed out loud. Of course he thought my dance moves were hand signals; I use my hands to tell him things all day, every day, but stupid me had never considered that.
I’m ashamed to admit that it had never occurred to me that Omar and I speak all kinds of gibberish and give conflicting signs to Edison and Foster as we go through our day. I was suddenly aware of how much inadvertent communication we are throwing at Edison and Foster, and my admiration for what they manage to accomplish swelled large. Not only do they learn to understand signed human language, they learn to contextualize the information we are giving them- as an example, take pointing at home meaning “go here” versus pointing in the car meaning If you don’t wanna go to Fist City you’d better detour round my town, ’cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head and I’ll lift you off of the ground (credit: Loretta Lynn)- and they tune out useless information according to context.
This is one more reason that I adore about deaf dogs; they learn to successfully live with idiots who make decisions for them every single day. In more humble moments I realize just how much more they teach me than I could ever teach them.