AS I sat on the deck of my girlfriend's place sipping an ice cold, um . . . lemonade, we watched her ailing senior dog nap in the shade of a maple tree.
With a tear in her eye my friend turned to me and said, "Gosh I wish they could talk, it would make things so much easier." Trying to lighten the mood I said, "If I had a dollar for every time I heard a dog client say that over the past decade and a half we'd be sitting on the deck of my ranch property right now."
My attempt at humour failed miserably to lift her mood.
With a frown she said, "Seriously, I could get old Freddie here to tell me how I can make the last few years of his life easier for him instead of all the guess work."
At one time or another - usually in frustration at what our dog is doing and why - most of us wish our dogs could talk.
I understand how much we'd like our dogs to be able to communicate in our language; it would certainly make things like figuring out an illness or even training that much easier.
But I believe that dogs, or any animal for that matter, are not intended to speak our language.
How boring would that be? All the joyful hours we spend watching our dogs play, or imagining what they are thinking about, would be lost.
When we observe their world of silent communication we can stretch our imaginations and envision them dreaming of chasing squirrels. As they wrestle with other dogs we communicate in our language with other humans as we narrate the play-by-play.
On a more profound level I believe dogs are an important tool in our present society, helping to keep our human social skills alive.
Dogs communicate with their own species very well, and this is done - more often than not - silently, through body language and eye contact, an art we humans have been losing for many years and sadly, thanks to text messaging, at an increasingly rapid rate.
It's ironic that as we wish our dogs could communicate with us in our own language we are becoming less willing to communicate with other humans face-to-face.
We are compensating by adding smiley faces or frowns or LOLs to the end of our messages to convey facial expressions or emotions lost in this impersonal form of communication.
It's even worse with our youngsters. As I sat in a coffee shop the other day I watched a few adolescents out for a coffee. They rarely spoke to each other or looked at each other except for the occasional grunt as they showed each other the text messages or Facebook updates on their cellphones. I wondered: what kind of a generation of noncommunicators will these teenagers raise when they become adults with children of their own?
So maybe - with their silent language - dogs are forcing us to keep communication skills real and honest. We can't text message a dog to let them know what we are asking of them; we have to do that directly, person to dog.
So instead of wishing our dogs could speak to us, maybe it's time we made the effort to become more like our dogs and speak to one another once again, like we used to before the social networks and cellphones took over our lives.