Many people argue that dogs are creatures of the moment, simple beings so focused on the now that they can’t be help but be happy. But my German shepherd Cora taught me that a dog’s past stays with them in ways that can be downright disturbing.
I adopted Cora from the SPCA when she was two years old. Because of unusual circumstances, I was able to learn a lot about her history, including the fact she had spent nearly a year chained up in a yard. While her early years were rough, she seemed well-adjusted and quite happy with her new life with me. When she was ten, something happened that forcefully showed me that her past was not forgotten, and it had been worse than I realized.
My husband was standing in the dining room with the rod in his hand. Cora was lying on the floor nearby.
Because he hadn’t been fishing in years, I was teasing him when I asked, “What are you going to do with that?”
He responded in kind, clearly joking when he said, “I’m going to beat the dog with it.”
To our astonishement, Cora leapt to her feet and raced from the room.
Kurt immediately put down the rod and went after her to apologize, but it was a while before she stopped shaking. I couldn’t believe it. This was the same dog who didn’t just sleep through thunderstorms but barely woke up when lightning hit the tree right next to our house.
When we talked about it afterwards, we were horrified. Neither of us had ever beaten her or talked about beating her before. He hadn’t brandished the rod or moved towards her or even looked at her. His tone of voice had been light-hearted, not threatening or angry.
And yet, Cora had been terrified. Perhaps the combination of the someone holding a stick and mentioning the dog was all that was needed, but the strength of her response was striking. Someone had beaten her in the past, more than eight years before, and she still remembered it.
It’s easy to think dogs are stupid, that the words we use are all “blah blah blah” to them, as suggested by the old Far Side cartoon. But Cora knew something about sticks and beatings that even eight years of kindness and loving care couldn’t erase. For me, it was an important reminder that dogs do remember the past, that how we treat them can stay with them their entire life.
Have you ever been surprised by what your dog remembers?