This week’s Quip Tide mailbag brought a handwritten, stamped postcard from a reader in Ramona, Calif., which is east of San Diego. Susan, a former Coastsider, said she “so enjoyed” my column about how new dog owners’ strict rules erode over time.
The postcard was unusual in several respects. It was an actual postcard, not an email. Its front image wasn’t of a national park, kitten or cartoon person with exaggerated buttocks or other accessories. And it conveyed that a reader “enjoyed” the column. But that shouldn’t have surprised me: It was a Dog Column.
Columns about dogs always seem to draw nice responses, which only encourages me to write more dog columns. Dogs would call this “classical conditioning,” if they could talk. It is a process dogs developed to train people. The inventive dogs, Nina, Yevgenia and Max, were owned by Russian physiologist and psychologist Ivan Pavlov.
Pavlov wanted to prove that a dog’s reaction to a stimulus (drooling when food was offered) could also be triggered by a different stimulus (the sound of a bell ringing) if the dog got used to hearing a bell ring at chow time.
If you ask me, Pavlov was the one who needed a psychologist. He may be the only dog owner in history who wanted his dogs to drool more often. People who don’t have their noses stuck in psychology textbooks and overlong, depressing Russian fiction — people who actually play with their dogs — know that they (the dogs) can drool at will, and also at times of stress, confusion, boredom, carsickness, exhaustion or contemplation. He could have saved a lot of time by tracking when the dogs weren’t drooling.
At least Pavlov picked a relatively innocuous dog behavior to encourage. Dogs have many amazing abilities in addition to drooling, such as loudly and pungently passing gas in crowded rooms, a behavior they usually save for holiday gatherings and family movie nights. Pavlov wisely checked off (Chekhoved?) that behavior from his list of options.
Nina, Yevgenia, and Max quickly caught on to Pavlov’s scheme. They obediently drooled when the bell rang — much like third-graders — as Pavlov wanted, but deviously counter-conditioned Pavlov to behave in ways they wanted. Yevgenia, the ringleader of the canine cabal, would wait until Pavlov was reading one of his gloomy, thousand-page novels then signal the others that it was time for action. The three would quietly grab their leashes by the handles, jump on Pavlov’s lap and drool copiously on the leashes and the book. Unable to continue reading until the book dried out, Pavlov would give in to the mutineers’ demand and take them for a long walk.
firstname.lastname@example.org has been conditioned to write about dogs. On Twitter: @louiecastoria.