Lately I’ve noticed that my dog, Atticus, is always watching me. Sure, I hear you: nearly all dogs are known for keeping eyes on their owners. But I’m telling you, Atticus watches me like a trained spy.
When I wake up in the mornings, he gazes at me affectionately from his belly-up position on the bed. When I cook breakfast, he sits by the refrigerator and watches me intently. He looks at my face while I watch television, while I’m reading, while I’m talking on the phone; he watches me while I’m drying my hair, doing laundry, or stocking the shelves of the pantry. And in those times when I’ve sat or lay still long enough that he relaxes into a nap, the moment I move a muscle, he looks up to see what I’m doing or where I’m going.
I’ve never looked at anyone in my whole life as much as my dog looks at me in a single day.
“What is it?” I find myself asking him. He continues only to gaze back at me in reply, his shining brown eyes the most earnest and sincere I’ve ever known. One of these days, perhaps he’ll scare the daylights out of me by opening his mouth and speaking English in reply to my questions. Until then, the two of us remain perplexed about one another’s communication styles.
For all I know, perhaps Atticus tells his friends at the dog park how his owner is always asking him questions. “Did you sleep well?” I ask him in the mornings. “Were you a good boy?” I say when I’ve been away from home. “Do you want to go to the lake?” — that’s his favorite question, I just know it.
That’s the thing with dogs and humans: all we know is one another’s behavior. Perhaps loving and being loved by a dog is the purest love because you cannot impress your dog with fancy words, or a shiny Hallmark card, or a promise of devotion. You can only win a dog’s heart by your behavior: bringing home supper every night, being good to him, and always coming back.
And of course, Atticus can’t write a song for me, can’t take me out to dinner, and can’t tell me my hair looks good. He could only win my heart by his behavior: wagging his tail, crashing into my arms at the end of each day, and endlessly, tirelessly, always watching me.
As I write, my dog Atticus is resting his chin on my leg, having been asleep for the last several minutes. Any moment now, I’ll put down the pen and I know he’ll wake up and immediately look to me to see what I’m doing. But just for a moment, I think I’ll hold still a little longer and I’ll watch him.