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What The Dog And Cat Hear When We Speak To Them

06/21/2015 08:39 am ET | Updated Jun 21, 2016

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When I say to my dog Nigel, "I'll be right back!" he hears this: "I'm going away for a long time. You will be alone and bored. For hours."

I try to put a positive spin on leaving him because I feel guilty when I'm away for hours at a time. For all he knows, I am never coming back. Ever. Which, if true, would mean that he would never go outside again. He would never again enjoy the pleasurable scents in the many places he likes to stick his nose all over the great out-of-doors. In addition, if he believed erroneously that I was never coming back, I suppose it might also occur to him that as a result of my permanent departure, he would starve to death. Slowly. Despite repeated attempts, my dog has not learned that my shoes and the sofa pillows do not constitute a satisfying diet. The cat, on the other hand, couldn't care less. She feels confident that if "you eat what you kill" became her reality, she would survive. Just maybe not indoors.

"Off!" is another thing I say on a daily basis to both the cat and the dog and each interprets it in a slightly different way. The dog thinks I'm saying "It is my wish that you rethink your desire to recline on the sofa." He rethinks his desire to recline on the sofa and rejects the suggestion in a heartbeat so he doesn't move. The cat thinks I'm saying "My underwear drawer is a fine place for you to sleep and so is my keyboard and please let me know if there is anything else I can do to make you more comfortable." I can't win.

"No!" is another of my favorite expressions but I am sure that the cat and the dog interpret that simple word differently. If I say "No" to my dog, he knows I am not going to give him a treat at the moment. He can always hope for the future. If I say "No" to my cat, she thinks I am trying really hard to get her attention and her approval and she pities me.

Sometimes when I leave I say to my dog, "Be nice to Kitty." Nigel would laugh if he was able when I say that because what he hears is this: "Chase the cat all you want because I won't be here to scold you. Have fun!" When the cat hears me say that, she doesn't care. She's not overly fond of either me or the dog but she knows she can go to places the dog can't so she is safe.

"Who did this?" almost always ends up being a rhetorical question as neither the cat nor the dog can answer the question. All they hear anyway is "Blah blah blah?" But both of them see my not-so-happy face and hear my not-so-happy tone of voice and after I announce that "I'll be right back!" both of them are convinced that I will soon be leaving them forever. Only one of them thinks that could really be a problem.

"Mummy's home!" is what I usually announce when I finally return. When the cat hears that she assumes reason has just been restored to her life because she is the Queen and I am the Prime Minister. But when the dog hears that Mummy's home, he knows that the lovely lady who dispenses the food is back where she needs to be to feed him. And all is right in the world.

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