Last night when I took Coco out for her nightly, she didn’t make it past the brick walk because a toad was sitting there next to the planter box, just minding its own business. This was not the first time I saw this toad (I assume this same toad) on the bricks like that. It was nighttime, just like the times I saw it before, dark enough to need a flashlight. Maybe the bricks retain the heat of the day and the toad likes it. Whatever its reason, if it has reason, it sits there. From my height I might easily overlook it or mistake it for a leaf blown in or a rock that got kicked there. We are outside for one purpose only. Toads are not on the agenda.
Coco instantly fixated on it. Neither dog nor toad moved a muscle.
Toad: If I just sit here, maybe that gigantic creature will go away.
Coco: Now what am I supposed to do?
The toad appeared to rely on its ability to camouflage itself here the way it does when it sits in the dirt. Very often you pass by such creatures and never see them at all. Dogs, even pugs with a comical faces, need no lessons, no direction, no encouragement. Dogs have dog noses. They know a toad when they smell one.
“No,” I said matter-of-factly, “this is not why we are out here.” It was late and I was tired. Coming out here so she could do her business was the last thing before bed. Coco, however, does not understand English beyond five simple words, including her favorite, “treat!” At that moment, except for this toad, nothing else in the world existed for her. (I’m sure I could have said “treat!” and she would not have moved.)
I picked her up — we don’t need a leash where I live, and she wasn’t about to come of her own accord — and relocated her to the fallen leaves at the edge of the yard, this apparently being enough of a signal and change of scenery to remind her of the purpose of the outing. She obliged, good dog. Off she trotted back toward the front door.
Lo and behold, the toad!
It’s a toad all right. Not a very smart one. Clearly it did not realize that I had removed a much larger creature with teeth. It had not used the window of opportunity to find a hiding place.
Instantly Coco fixated on it again. I wonder: Did she forget about the toad when I physically removed her from its presence (“oh, look, leaves, I know what to do in leaves”)? Did she refocus her energy to the business we went out there for and then discover the toad anew when we came back toward the porch? Or did she acquiesce when I picked her up (“fine, I’ll go do my thing, that toad isn’t going anywhere”)? Did she humor me knowing she’d get no peace to enjoy her prize until and unless she obliged?
I have evidence of the toad’s intelligence, but just how smart is the dog?
Whether she thought she was lucky enough to discover a toad twice in one night or was simply glad to get back to it after humoring me, this was an unexpected thrill for her. I grant that. I gave her a moment to relish the domination or fascination or whatever might be in her pug brain. I see it from both sides.
Toad: Uh… this is a rather dangerous situation.
Coco: It’s my turn to be the big, strong one.
I let the toad feel its vulnerability. I let Coco feel her power. I watched as she moved closer. One could rightly say she towered over the little toad.
Those paws remembered their ancient job. Harass the object of domination. See if you can get it to move. Sure enough, one little tap and the toad jumped. I gave this game about ten seconds to play out, watched the toad (finally!) hop to a safe spot under the porch, then had had enough. I was tired. It was time for bed. “C’mon, Coco.” She knew she was beaten and followed me in.
This morning it was still dark at 530. Once again I needed the flashlight to take Coco out. Don’t you know, there was that toad again. The bricks couldn’t still be warm, so perhaps there is another reason it goes there. The same scene played out: Coco fixated, the toad froze, I got impatient and relocated Coco to do her business, she obliged, we walked back to the house, same toad still there, Coco assumed domination stance.
This could be interesting, I said to myself. I left the flashlight on the railing pointing toward the dog towering over the toad and went inside to get my camera. It didn’t take me more than 30 seconds to do this.
When I got back, no toad. Slobber hanging from Coco’s mouth — not her prettiest moment. Considerable licking going on. Pugs do that sometimes. They stick their too-long tongues out over and over again. Like a broken record they repeat the curling motion. The unique sound that accompanies this habit sometimes gets annoying. It’s gross even when you aren’t wondering if they just ate something they shouldn’t.
What just happened?
She is not, as a rule, a slobbering dog. The licking did not make the slobber go away. I used a paper towel and wiped it off. She did her where’s-breakfast dance as usual and I made her sit and stay as usual. Still the licking. More slobber. Another paper towel. Should I feed her? Did she already have breakfast? Outside? In the form of a toad? Could she really have eaten it that fast? Toads have bones. Did she swallow them too? Toads have blood. The slobber didn’t. Do I want to think about this?
I gave Coco a little less food than usual. She inhaled it as usual and found her spot against the pillows on the couch as usual.
I decided that this comes into that category of things we don’t know, we can’t know and maybe, sometimes, we don’t want to know. If there is a toad on the walk when we go out tonight, I’ll assume I saw the slobber of hope, the slobber of anticipation, the slobber of disappointment. If there’s not, well, what would you assume?
My son Samuel said to me just last night – on a completely different subject – that to him, a person’s ability to know the limits of their intelligence, their understanding, their abilities is an impressive marker of their development. To know that you don’t know everything, to be able to admit this, to be open to learning something new – these things set you apart. They indicate humility, a far more admirable trait than arrogance. They portend success because people who see themselves realistically and who are willing to see a new perspective or try a new approach are going to be nicer to be around and going to stretch and strengthen their intelligence, understanding and abilities, i.e. going to know more in the long run.
Did the dog eat the toad? I don’t know!
Somehow I don’t think this kind of not knowing is what he had in mind. I don’t think it qualifies as impressive.
Uh-oh. More licking is happening…