Tinkerbell and Bluebell are cute and they know it. The two little dogs live with their human family in Kuala Lumpur, and they rule the roost.
“Tinkerbell joined us first, almost 13 years ago,” Michelle Woo, an Emmett massage therapist, reminisces. “Bluebell was supposed to come too, but there was a mix-up with the booking and she went to another family. They decided they didn’t want her, and so she came to us when she was six months old.”
The two dogs live happily together, with Tinkerbell, the Schnauzer, being a happy-go-lucky type, and Bluebell, the Shih Tzu mix, the mischievous pet.
“Bluebell is sweet and gentle. She doesn’t destroy anything either, but she is into everything,” Woo giggles.
“When she’s up to her tricks, Tinkerbell will look on, a goody two shoes, and pretending she knows nothing about it.”
The family has always been closed, but since the movement control orders, that bond has deepened. In addition, the dogs are learning new ways to communicate.
“Tinkerbell is blind and deaf now, and she doesn’t like the rain,” Woo shares. “When it’s wet, she looks for me for comfort. It used to be that when I was at work, I could move on the head and go back to it, but not anymore.
“If I try it, she stands on her back legs, poking my hands, and then she stamps her feet like a toddler that wants attention. And if I try to pat her head, she will keep at it until I pick her up.”
This behavior is new, having started in the last few months.
“She hardly ever throws a tantrum and so it only dawned on me gradually what she was doing. She’s gone to a baby stage with this stomping.”
Dogs do learn from others, but there’s no human toddler in the house. Tinkerbell doesn’t have little friends, and she doesn’t visit homes with children either.
“I don’t know where she’s picking this up,” Woo muses. “I actually thought I might be imagining it, but then it happened again and again. She’s really doing it.”
Clever little Bluebell is developing some new habits too. The small furry dog loves her air-cond, and with the temperature increasing in the last few years, she’s become very aware of which rooms are cooled and when.
“We are careful with our air-cond, it’s so expensive,” Woo points out, “so Bluebell is actively tracking who is switching it on and when. In the last few months, she comes upstairs at 9pm to see who puts on the air-cond. If I put it on in my room first, Bluebell comes to me. But if it’s our son, she’s in his room.”
Bluebell isn’t simply passive about this; she’s militant.
“One night a few weeks ago when I thought it was cool, I didn’t put it on,” Woo recounts. “My son wasn’t well, and so he left his off. Well, Bluebell was upset. She came into my room, stared at me meaningfully, and then stared at the air-cond.
“I tried to ignore her, but she did it again. It was unmistakeable. A real meaningful look. When I switched it on, she jumped on the pillow and went to sleep. She definitely knows what she wants!”
The origin of this behavior is easier to trace.
“When we started working from home during the movement restrictions, they learned to stare down my husband to make him feed them,” Woo giggles. “I think it moved on from there. They figured it out that we can’t ignore them, so they’ve learned to be persistent.”
Curiously, the dogs push their human friends around, but their motives aren’t always clear.
“Bluebell can tell the time,” Woo says. “Every morning at 7am sharp, she demands we let her out. It’s on the button, not earlier and not later. But she doesn’t go outside to do her business, she just wants to go out and about.”
Bluebell is determined, because if she’s spent the night with Woo’s son, she will toddle over to his mum’s room in the morning to wake her up and demand the door be opened.
The end of the day is on Bluebell’s list too.
“For the last three months she’s demanded her dinner at 4.30pm,” Woo shares. “She doesn’t actually eat it, but she wants to see it there. She gets whoever is closest to the kitchen, my husband or me. But she won’t eat till 7pm. I have no idea why she’s doing this.”
Dogs have a reputation for greediness, and so one might expect Tinkerbell to pop in and help herself from Bluebell’s bowl.
However, the two pets have an absolute rule about respecting each other’s food.
“They have identical bowls and so they may have one bowl one day and the other the next,” Woo explains.
“But once the bowls are down, the dogs know whose is whose. Then it’s a case of each to his own, no swapsies and no stealing.
“I used to worry abut them having their fair share, but I realized they have it sorted.”
Tinkerbell and Bluebell know exactly what they want, and they have no trouble conveying their needs, between themselves and their human family. All that remains is the breathless anticipation of what the two furries will demand next.
Learning your dog’s language
Communication means sharing inner thoughts with others, but exactly how this is done is hugely controversial, especially when it comes to animals.
The idea that non-humans have emotions, needs and feelings just as we do is unsettling for some. Also, it’s a challenge to prove that these things exist – even if we are talking about ourselves or our nearest and dearest.
While the debate rages, dog lovers broadly agree that canine communication is complex and often individualistic.
Dogs who live with humans tend to talk a lot more than wild dogs. Possibly, they pick it up from us, as humans are chatterboxes, or possibly we have unconsciously bred for this quality.
However it works, yips, barks, whines and other sounds convey solid emotions and feelings such as excitement, anxiety, frustration, love, happiness, and also needs such as hunger, thirst and the need to go potty.
Body language matters too, but it’s tricky. For example, dogs use their paws like we use our hands. This is quite easy to see because a paw on your hand or leg is a clear signal that your pet wants to communicate.
But some dogs prefer to use their mouths rather than their paws. They will gently hold your wrist in their mouths and pull or chew gently to convey a message. It’s quite a good thing, especially if the dog has long nails, but this form of communication can be misunderstood.
In addition, pets do develop highly individualistic communication patterns. Some are classic and easily understood, like your dog bringing its leash when it wants to go for a walk, or a ball when it wants to play.
Others are less clear, like the pet who sits on a small rug and woofs because they want a treat and that spot is the last place you handed one over.
The bottom line is, spend time with your pet, think it all through, and don’t worry if you don’t always get it. Dogs do talk; we just need to learn their language.
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