Common Ground: ‘Moo’ve over, Dog Whisperer

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Sure, they’re cute, but they also require constant, care, attention and patience, and not just from their human family members.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham. Sure, they’re cute, but they also require constant, care, attention and patience, and not just from their human family members.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

Winchester let out a long and guttural “moo.” I don’t know what a cow means when it moos, much less what an English setter means when he does it. My best guess is that cows do it to be friendly, or to release the excess gas that develops from chewing cud.

I’d heard somewhere that the reason a cow moos has to do with it being a herd animal. But dogs are pack animals, not herd animals. And Winchester’s moo had a tinge of a growl to it. The rest of the pack was circling him. His moo seemed to be saying, “Don’t get any closer.”

Some people might say he was growling, but a growl is more sinister than a moo. The dog moo, apparently, is just a pre-growl warning. The pack encircling Winchester was comprised of five adorable English setter puppies that were just trying to get a closer look at their dad. Their dad, unfortunately, was not entirely convinced of his paternity.

“Winchester,” I said in a tone that meant, “Shame on you for pre-growl mooing at your children.”

He looked at me with a glowering gaze that meant, “Shame on you for shaming on me.” One of the things I love about English setters is their inability to be shamed. When a Labrador does something bad, such as eat a piece of furniture or chew the heel of a designer shoe, there is a display of shame by the guilty party. A Lab might even dance around a bit seeming to say, “Aww, shucks, will you forgive me? I’m just an adorable little creature with a lack of self control.” And I forgive.

An English setter, however, doesn’t feel much remorse. If you choose to be upset at one, they must think it is because you have psychological issues and you probably need to see a therapist. When Winchester has taken occasion to destroy an item belonging to me and I say, “Bad, Winchester. Bad. Bad,” he just looks at me with his lofty gaze.

If he could talk, he might say something like, “Perhaps it was bad behavior, but you are speaking to me as if I did not intend to do it.”

A friend told me that I anthropomorphize too much, which means I talk about animals as if they are human. Her theory was that the only way a dog can communicate is a bark and they only know one word. Animal language is a controversial subject, and it’s entirely possible that I have a creative imagination or a paranormal gift. Either way, I’m talking to my dog and he’s talking back. He does more than bark, too. He grunts, snorts, growls, bays and howls. Our language skills are becoming so advanced I’m picking up some French words, and he’s apparently now taking up cow.

The puppies were inching closer to Winchester and the moo crackled with a few snarls. Being setter puppies, they were as immune to a snarl as they would later be to a reprimand. Just in case Winchester decided to attack one of them, I suggested to the puppies that they disperse. They looked at me quizzically, which meant, “But we want to say hi to our dad.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that Winchester wasn’t exactly father of the year. And I didn’t want to scare them with stories about how grizzly bears eat their children.

“Puppies,” I said, “Disperse. Disperse.” They cocked their little heads. And then one of them croaked at me.

I wanted to call my friend up right away and tell her that one of my puppies was already bilingual. But then I thought better of it. I don’t know the long word for someone who talks about animals as if they are other animals. Instead, I decided to polish up on my ability to speak frog.

Christine Cunningham was born in Alaska and has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for the last 20 years, where she enjoys fishing, hunting and outdoors recreation. Her book, “Women Hunting Alaska,” was released by Northern Publishing. She can be reached at For up-to-date information on the “Women Hunting Alaska” book, visit Northern Publishing online or Women Hunting Alaska on Facebook.


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