“He doesn’t do this,” she apologized. She meant, Before. Dogs, I am learning, hate masks.
These are anxious times for all of us, but particularly confusing for dogs. Unlike their wolf ancestors, dogs need to read our faces. To wolves, human faces were something to rip off and eat. Dogs need our faces to know when it is a good time to petition us to open cans of lamb n’ rice niblets for them, as opposed to times when we are attempting to be amorous with our significant others and couldn’t give a crap about lamb n’ rice niblets. Dogs need to know how we are feeling about things. When faces disappear, dogs get upset, because there is a sudden mystery, and mystery is bad, possibly threatening. They react with displeasure. They disapprove. They become tsking culture warriors.
Some dogs bark. Some dogs — hound dogs, in particular — roo. For most of her life, my Plott hound, Murphy, would roo at people in public places who were doing things that seemed wrong to her. She was scolding them, informing them that in her neighborhood, people are not supposed to act in certain ways. She rooed at people carrying boxes, for example, bedeviling FedEx drivers. She rooed at people wearing hats. The worst incident occurred in a park, when I had to ask the forgiveness of a very nice couple sitting on a bench, doing nothing wrong. Murphy is big and had alarmed them by giving them a piece of her rather small mind.
“I am sorry,” I had to say. “My dog doesn’t approve of people kissing.” I think she actually thought there was face-eating going on.
But I’ve never seen anything like this mask thing. In the past month I have been scolded by Pomeranians and Great Danes, eyed suspiciously by dogs of dubious but no doubt excellent parentage. They are not being rude, they are being cautious. After my encounter with Zachary, I didn’t approach another dog for a couple of weeks.
But just this morning I went across the street to visit my friend and neighbor, Annie. I was on an exploratory mission because I’d been sensing a change in general street attitude.
Annie came to the door in a mask. I wore a mask. We kept six feet apart. This is the new normal, of course.
“Is Raleigh in? I’d like to talk to her.”
Raleigh came bounding out. Greeted me exuberantly. Tail wagging, nuzzling.
“Whoa,” I said.
“Yeah, she doesn’t mind masks anymore,” Annie said. “She even kisses me through mine.”
The new normal. We’re all getting used to it.
Email Gene Weingarten at email@example.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.
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