Dog Magic

The Little White Dog's behaviour has changed over the years. She used to spend a lot of time on Mum's lap, but now there are no cats to look down upon, she's rarely interested. A lot of her behaviour seems to be about influencing us. One night we had guests for tea, and the Little White Dog came down from the bedroom and began eyeballing us from the doorway. Then she began to walk to the table, and back to the door, with an impatience so obvious you could almost hear the sighs. Our guests thought it was hilarious; their dogs do the same thing. "It's bedtime. Send these people home, feed me, and come to bed so I can relax."

In the mornings, she used to be content to get up whenever we did. Now she's awake as soon as it's light, and impatient for breakfast. (To be fair, we do get up later these days, because we no longer have the long commute in from Elizabeth.) What's interesting is the changes in the Little White Dog's approach to getting us out of bed. An early strategy was to come and stand over me and stare. This is the classic guilting technique used by many dogs. Then she began the scratch-off-the-sheet-and-quilt phase. "If he's cold, he'll get up!" As I became better at tucking the top of the sheet down, she changed to a new strategy: ear licking is a powerful incentive to get up. And you can lick someone's ears through the sheet. I fought back by giving her little hugs and body rubs to keep her away from my head and face. To her surprise, and mine, she quite likes this, and it frequently earns me another half hour in bed. Sometimes she relaxes and goes back to sleep, so that I get a whole extra hour! But now there has been another change. For the last few mornings she has employed an old and powerful methodology: Magic! 

Magic is where those initiated into the secrets of our existence perform the movements, and say the formulae—the spells, which manipulate reality. It fascinates me to see a dog seemingly mimic our behaviour. The dog door in our flat is a magic portal. The Little White Dog knows that if you go outside to the toilet and come back through the dog door, you get chicken nuggets. In reality, you are supposed to fertilise the vegie garden, and you only get nuggets at certain times of the day. She knows this, and we know she knows, because she appears at those times with an accuracy approaching that of an atomic clock! But she has also decided that if you go out the dog door, do a quick circuit of the back yard, and come back in, it will magically cause nuggets to appear. The harder and faster you hit the dog door, the more likely it is you will get nuggets.

The new pre-breakfast magic spell works like this: You bounce over Wendy's legs, launch off the step to the bed, and career outside. (I can count the seconds between the first bang of the dog door and the slam of re-entry, and calculate if she's been to the toilet or simply skidded to a halt outside and u-turned it back into the house.) You charge back inside, leap up onto the bed—it's more effective if you don't have to use the dog step—bounce over Wendy's legs, and race up to Andrew's head and give him the eye.

If the spell doesn't work; that is, if he does not feel compelled to get up and provide food, do it all again! Sooner or later, the spell will work. "It only took four goes this morning, and now I'm back on the bed, warm and fed, snuggled up behind Wendy's knees, and Andrew's in the lounge room, doing whatever it is he does with that pencil thing on his phone."

Magic is a principal technique in primitive religion. It seeks to manipulate the god into being favourable to us. It seeks to alter reality to fit our needs and desires, instead of living with what is.
Magic is a precursor to science and technology. The difference is that technology works. It is real, whereas magic is where we run faster through the dog door, or more often, in the hope or pretense that we are doing something meaningful.
Magic thinking tends to deny reality: think of the climate change denialists who dream up ad hoc theories to explain away the data. Magic thinking is wish fulfilment.
Sometimes magic is just daft: Can the way your wedding ring spins really have anything to do with the sex of your unborn child!?

"But it works," cries the Little White Dog. "You got up and fed me!"

Well, AnnieRose, sometimes magic and superstition observe correlations between events where there is not the causative connection we imagine or hope for. The magic portal in the back door has nothing to do with producing your food. I get up and feed you so Wendy can have some more sleep.

The Little White Dog doesn't know it, but the ear licking is much more effective at getting me up. Bouncing through the magic portal is just cute. And hilarious! But I'm not going to tell her this. I like my ears dry, and so does Wendy!


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