Why Dogs Don’t Talk

Dean Monti
10 min readJun 21, 2021

by Dean Monti © 2021 (originally published in the literary journal Ellipsis)

“This is swell, isn’t it?”

Mel leaned over the side of his leather recliner and gently patted the head of his mastiff.

Hubert responded, giving Mel’s hand a small, appreciative lick.

“I mean,” Mel continued, “just a quiet evening at home. Me reading the newspaper, smoking a cigar. My feet up. And you here by my side.”

Hubert got up and scratched a furious paw behind his left ear. Then he circled the throw rug and settled back in exactly the same position he’d been in.

“No,” Hubert mumbled. “It’s not so bad.”

Mel smiled. “Yes indeed. You are my friend.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Hubert.

“You think the adage is true, then?”

“What adage is that?”

“Man’s best friend? A man’s best friend is his dog.”

“Oh, that,” Hubert said. “I imagine so.”

Hubert lowered his jowls to the carpet and closed his eyes.

Mel pulled his cigar out of the ashtray and took a long drag on it. “I imagine then that the opposite must be true.”

Hubert opened one eye. “How’s that?”

“That man is a dog’s best friend.”

Hubert got up and stretched. He faced Mel and sat down. “No, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that.”

“No?”

“No, I wouldn’t say so. I think most dogs would actually prefer the company of other dogs.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Oh yeah. I don’t know many dogs who would say they prefer man to the company of other dogs.”

“Really?” The now forgotten cigar in Mel’s hand suddenly felt hot near his knuckles. He sat up fully in the recliner and crushed out the end in the ashtray.

“Sure,” Hubert said. “Dogs tend to like other dogs.”

Mel cleared his throat. “Why is that?”

“Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it? This whole business of a dog being a man’s best friend is a nice thing to say. But it goes against species, doesn’t it? Most animals tend to like their own kind. There are a lot of things a dog can offer to me that a man can’t offer.”

“Hmm. Interesting,” Mel said. He cleared his throat again. There didn’t seem to be anything to clear, but his mouth felt quite dry.

That evening Mel lay face up in bed, wide-awake. Hubert was sleeping on another woven rug Mel had placed beside the bed for him.

“Man’s best friend,” Mel mumbled. He thought about all the things he did for his four-legged companion. He’d given him a home, kept his water dish full of fresh water. Kept his food dish full, scratched his belly, combed and petted him. Washed him. Took him for walks.

Mel snapped on the lamp on his bedside table. Hubert got up, stretched and yawned.

“What’s wrong Mel, can’t you sleep?”

“You’re damned right I can’t sleep,” Mel said, and he repeated the litany of good master tasks he performed for Hubert that, by now, he’d repeated several times in his head.

“Don’t I make a nice home for you?” Mel asked. “Don’t I brush you often?”

“Yes,” Hubert said. “You are very good about that.”

“Doesn’t that make me your best friend? Letting you into my home, giving you nice rugs to sleep on, giving you treats and table scraps…”

“Look, it’s fine here. I know I have it as good as the next dog. I’m not complaining. I’m really not. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Well, it would all be so much better if another dog was doing all that stuff.”

“But another dog can’t do that. You’ll never find a dog that can do all that I can do for you.”

“Absolutely. You’re right, Mel. Our species is very limited. It’s just that if I had a choice. I mean, there’s plenty of other things a dog can do that you can’t do for me.”

“Such as?”

“Dog things.”

“Dog things?

“Yeah. You know. Just silly dog things.”

“No, tell me. I’d like to know.”

Hubert sat up and rested on his haunches.

“Okay. For instance, you know that dog we always run into on the walking path?”

“The one that’s never on a leash? The setter?”

“Mmm. That’s the one.”

“What’s so special about the setter?”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. He…let’s me smell him. And he smells me, which is also quite nice. He nips at me, pants in my face.”

“I thought that bothered you.”

“I know; you always pull me away. But it’s something I actually look forward to.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Mel said, and he clicked off the light. He turned it back on almost immediately. “All right, try to explain this to me. What is the appeal? I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t get it, Mel, you’re not a dog. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“Do you like the setter more than the Afghan?”

“The Afghan? She’s fine. If you’re asking me if I prefer male dogs to female, it’s not like that. I just thought we were talking about male friendships.”

“And as male friendships go, you prefer the setter to me. I don’t believe it.”

“Don’t take it personally. It’s just that, as a dog, I’m much more likely to have a stimulating conversation with the setter.”

“Barking and yipping? You call that a stimulating conversation?”

“It’s not just the barking and yipping. There’s the sniffing, the panting. It all means something to a dog. And if you’re a dog you get a lot out of that stuff. That’s why we get so worked up. We don’t hide our emotions. When we’re enjoying something, we show it. I’m forced to be much more reserved around humans.”

“So this barking and sniffing and panting. What does it mean?”

“I told you, it’s just dog stuff.”

“Tell me.”

“Well, those barks are kind of like Hey! Hey! Look! Look at me! Look at you! Where have you been? You smell like something. What is it? What is that smell? Hey! Hi! Hi!

Mel stared at Hubert. “That’s your stimulating conversation?”

“For a dog it is.”

“And you’re going to sit there and tell me that’s better than our conversations?”

“Our conversations are fine. But they’re a bit too cerebral, don’t you think? I mean, you go on and on about things that don’t matter much to a dog. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy enough to have that kind of relationship with you, but…”

“But you’d rather have the yips and barks and the smelling.”

“It’s just a dog thing,” Hubert said. “Don’t worry about it. I accept the limitations of my dogness and I accept the limitations of your humanity.”

“Wait a minute. What limitations? A dog can yip and bark and smell, but he can’t do all the things I do. Whereas, I could actually yip and bark and smell if I chose to.”

“But you never choose to, do you?” Hubert fired back. “I think perhaps because you have a more advanced brain and can do all these things you’re so proud of, you miss out on some of the simple pleasures only a dog can enjoy.”

“So if I did all those things the setter does, I might be your best friend?”

“Theoretically,” Hubert said. “But I can’t imagine you’d really want to do those things. And that’s a big part of it. Enthusiasm. The desire to smell and be smelled, for instance.”

“I think you’ve got it pretty damned good here without my smelling you and panting and barking around you.”

“You’re right. Look, forget it, Mel. I’m your best friend and you’re my best friend, okay? Let’s just let it go.”

“I don’t want to let it go.”

“See, that’s just so human of you Mel,” Hubert said. “I mean, as mad as I’ve ever been at any dog, it goes away the moment they’re gone. I’ve seen you stay mad for hours. Days. Just because I chewed on something for Christsakes.”

“You chewed on my record collection,” Mel said. “I can’t replace those records.”

“I was truly sorry right after it happened and I’m sorry now, Mel. I just don’t have that sense of attachment to things that you do. But my point is, no dog would ever stay mad at me for such a thing. And furthermore, I didn’t stay mad at you after you punished me by smacking me with a rolled up newspaper. It hurt, sure, but didn’t I greet you just the same the next day?”

“Yes, but…”

“Yes, but… there’s a real friend for you. Someone who knows something about turning the other cheek. Not to mention being able to smell and be smelled and lick and yip and bark and pant in your face.”

“All right, enough.” Mel said. “If you’re happy with the way things are, then fine. I can’t talk about this any more.”

A few nights later, Mel and Hubert were watching television. When a commercial came on showing a loving master feeding and petting a Springer Spaniel, Mel got up suddenly and snapped off the set.

“Okay, I’m ready,” Mel said.

“What’s that, Mel?”

“The smelling, the being smelled, the licking, yapping, and barking. Let’s go.”

“No, no, that’s okay, Mel. You don’t have to do that. Really. I get enough of that in the park. I’m actually pretty tired.”

“Come on. I’m ready now. I really want to.”

“No, you don’t. You’re just trying to use human logic to try to dispel this notion you have in your head that a setter could be a better friend to me than you.”

“It’s not just that,” Mel said. “I want us to be good friends. I want to do all those things, I really do.”

Hubert stood up, stretched and ambled over to Mel. “Okay,” he sighed. “Let’s give it a shot.”

Mel got down on all fours, pranced around in an agitated state and began barking and yipping and smelling everything in sight. He moved quickly to Hubert and panted in his face. He smelled Hubert and allowed himself to be smelled. Afterwards, Mel fell back onto his recliner, somewhat exhausted but exhilarated and self-satisfied.

“Whew,” Mel said finally. “Pretty great, huh?”

“The truth?” Hubert said, looking very uncomfortable.

“What?” Mel demanded. “What was so bad about that?”

“It was okay,” Hubert said. “The yipping and backing was pretty good. The panting seemed a little forced. And you smelled me okay, I was impressed with that; but you didn’t smell all that interesting yourself.”

“I could smell more interesting” Mel said.

“No, no, let’s just forget it.”

“No, wait. I can. I can smell really interesting. “I can lick myself all over and run outside and pull up clumps of grass with my teeth and pee on things and accidentally pee on my leg. You have no idea how interesting I can smell.”

“I don’t know…”

“Wait. Wait right here.” Mel dashed out of the apartment. Hubert scratched himself and licked himself until Mel returned, about ten minutes later. Mel looked as though he’d been rolling around in filth. There was grass in his hair and smudges on his arms and face.

“Jesus, Mel, what did you do?”

“Ah! You tell me,” Mel said smugly. “Go ahead, check me out. Where have I been?”

Hubert approached Mel and began sniffing him.

“Um…you were on that patch of grass near the lamppost on the corner…”

“Hey, that’s right.”

“And I think you peed on yourself a little. And it smells like you chewed on some of those flowers in the neighbor’s flower box.”

“Very good. So… what do you think?”

“Well, you smell more interesting, I’ll give you that. I wouldn’t mind going out later and marking some of this territory myself. You picked some good spots.”

“But?”

“But you don’t smell like a dog, I’m afraid. Though it’s more interesting than most evenings I’ve had around here.”

“Good. Maybe we can do this more often and be better friends. I really don’t mind getting some filth on myself if it’ll help us to bond. You know, get closer.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Hubert said. “But you’ll never actually be a dog and I’m afraid that’s a big part of it.”

“I don’t think you’re being fair.”

“Well, there you go, being all human again. Another dog would never expect to improve relations just because he smelled differently. Another dog would never accuse me of not being fair.”

Mel sighed deeply. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” Hubert said. “Now, if you like, because you’ve been so nice about it, I’m quite willing to go outside and fetch for a while if you’d like me to.”

“I thought you were tired.”

“Sure, but I don’t want you to think there are any hard feelings between us.”

“No, no,” Mel said. “But listen. Maybe after today you shouldn’t talk anymore. I don’t think it’s been a good thing for us.” Mel’s joie de vivre had worn off and then some. He felt like a foolish, stinky man, covered in filth. He started pulling off his shirt.

“What are you doing?” Hubert asked.

“I need to go wash up. I’m a mess,” Mel said.

“You’re going to wash those smells off?”

“I thought I would, yes. Why, what is it…?”

“No, it’s nothing.”

Mel noticed Hubert’s ears were down and his eyebrows seemed sad.

“Well, I mean … I don’t have to wash, I suppose…” Mel mumbled.. Hubert perked up.

“But the bed. I can’t get the sheets all dirty.”

“You could sleep on my rug by the bed,” Hubert said. “And I could sleep on the bed.”

“Me? On the floor? Yeah, sure. I guess I could do that. You know, just this once.”

“‘Just this once’? That’s what you’d tell a friend?”

“I’m not giving up my bed.”

“Of course not,” Hubert said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

“And you won’t talk anymore?”

“Not a word,” Hubert said.

Mel went into the bedroom with Hubert at his heels. Mel was too big to get his entire body on the rug but he curled up on it, gamely. Hubert jumped on the bed and found the soft spot Mel had created on it by sleeping on the same place every night. He settled in.

Mel tried to ignore his discomfort and go to sleep. He briefly wondered if it would matter to Hubert if he wore a dog costume or a furry suit. Probably not, he thought.

Later that evening, when he knew Hubert was asleep, Mel licked the back of his hand and dabbed at some of the smudges on his arms and face. Nothing wrong with being a clean dog, Mel thought. Even if it was just for a night or two.

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Dean Monti

Author of the critically-acclaimed comic novel THE SWEEP OF THE SECOND HAND, published by Penguin.