Maxed Out 

Runnin' with the pack

Runnin’ with the pack

Zippy the Dog smiles. Being a Lab, he also belches, farts, eats anything that hits the floor and makes a sound which, if I’m not mistaken, is the dog world equivalent of Homer Simpson’s "D’Oh!"

But it’s the smile that apparently makes him unique, or at least unusual, among the higher lifeforms. Zippy’s is a big, toothy, obsequious smile. It is a cross between a "be my friend" smile and a "boy, do I have some swamp land I’d like to talk to you about" oily, sly smirk.

If he were a mean looking dog or made a growly noise when he flashed it, you might mistake his smile for a snarl. But he’s a goof, a Lab, a dog most people would immediately recognize as a serious threat to lick them to death or maybe induce exhaustion insisting they throw his ball until their arm fell off. As such, even non-dogpeople have commented on the unsettling fact he smiles.

"Hey, your dog smiles."

"Yeah. Kinda unsettling isn’t it?"

"He ever do that while you’re undressing?

"He knows better."

Problem is, dogs don’t smile. At least that’s what Dr. Stanley Coren said when he came to town a couple of weeks ago. Despite his rumpled, streetperson appearance, Dr. Coren is a dog expert and knows about such things. He spends lots of time in the laboratory studying dogs and studying other studies about dogs as well as spending lots of "field" time breaking good dogs of bad habits. In his half hour television show, Good Dog , Dr. Coren can break a dog of, say, sofa eating or charging things that catch his eye on the Home Shopping channel.

Anyway, he says dogs don’t smile and, much as I’d hate to call him a liar, Zippy the Dog smiles. I’ve got witnesses. I was going to ask him about it during the Q&A following his talk, but there were a lot more important questions being asked. "My dog ate my coat. Why’s he do things like that?" for example.

Besides, I’m not entirely sure I trust him. His talk was on "The Language of Dogs." He was going to explain the subtle nuances of dogspeak to those of us who usually only take a wild stab at guessing what it is our dogs are trying to say. Personally, I know Zippy has a rich and varied language embracing such complex metaphysical concepts as "Hey, you gonna finish that?" while staring mournfully at whatever I’m eating. Or, "Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the freakin’ ball already."

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