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  • Writer's pictureKarian Markos

Explaining Time to a Zen Dog

Updated: May 26, 2023

Early this morning at around 5 a.m., I was making coffee, when my dog, Astro, started crying at the back door. He wanted to be let out, but it was way too early to wake up the neighborhood.

This giant, white, fur-ball, otherwise known as a Great Pyrenees, has drawn the ire of the neighborhood's loudest complainer for his deep and resounding bark. I've gotten notes in my mailbox. A “neighborly” home visit, complete with a berating, waggling finger. Even the local police came sniffing around our yard one day.

But as much as I'd like to figuratively ‘roast’ that neighbor, this piece is about my dog, and his relationship to words and time.

Astro and I share an understanding. He goes to the door, I let him out. He comes to the door, barks once, and I let him in. The system works for the most part. What he does when he is outside is entirely up to him. I wouldn't purport to have any control over my highly intelligent, critical thinking Pyr, to whom commands are mere suggestions. He'll come if he deems it appropriate. He'll sit or stay if treats are involved. Heel? Not if there are butts to sniff.

I understand why some dog owners rely on systems that involve their pup pressing a button whereupon a word that expresses what the dog wants is electronically spoken, like rudimentary versions of the talking dog collars in the Pixar movie, "Up". My friend's dog owns one such button. Hers is situated by the back door and says, "As-Salamu Alaykum" whenever she wants to go outside. To use that phrase for that purpose doesn't make sense, but it shows that the words spoken don't matter as much as what the action means to the dog. It has formed a cause and effect relationship with the button. I push this, dog-mom lets me out, and so forth. Pressing the button also implies, "I want X, NOW."

Which brings me back to this morning. Great Pyrenees are not known for their outpourings of emotion. If they were humans, they would show about as much as England's royal family. In addition, similar to other dogs, they have no concept of time. They live "in the now" as my friend, Eckhart Tolle, would say.

So Astro had been standing at the door, crying for some time. It was still dark outside, and I knew that once I sent him out there, he would bark at every raccoon, squirrel and blade of grass that swayed in the wind. Then, ol' Elephant Ears would hear it and summon the authorities.

That is how I found myself trying to explain to my dog that he’d have to wait a bit before I could send him out.

In general, my dog is not a whiner. He responds to rejection just like my three kids do; with stoic acceptance of what "is." I can't even write that last bit without laughing to myself. To my children I say, "use your words" to mean, express your needs. I can say, "hold on,” or "we'll go tomorrow,” and they generally understand me. To my dog, what can I say?

At first I tried regular talking. "Can't go out yet, buddy. We'll go out soon." A nod, a pat on the head and then I returned to my coffee. That didn’t work. "Soon" doesn't mean anything to a dog who lives in complete awareness of the present moment. I moved on to the next strategy. Perhaps if I ignore him, I told myself, maybe he'll give up. That lasted all of ten seconds. Another failed attempt to resolve the situation on account of my bleeding heart. On the third go-around, I decided to meet him on the spiritual plane using the infamous Jedi-mind trick. I looked him in the eyes, returning his steady gaze and said, "stay, bed,” then I waived my hand. He left the door. Wow, Lucas was on to something, I think, and patted myself on the back. But all the dog did was walk around the room and come back to the door. Huff. Commence crying again. Dog-mom will respond. I am not one to permit suffering when I can do something to prevent it, so I gave in, and let the poor guy out. Chaos ensued, as I predicted.

Anyhow, it all turned out well in the end. The dog got what he wanted. The police were nice. I'll pay the nuisance fine in installments.

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