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The Four O\’Clock Stare

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

Here is Bisou, giving me the four o\’clock stare, which often begins at 3:45 and continues unabated until 4:23, when I can\’t stand it any longer and give in and feed her (her official dinner time is 5:00).

As parents, my spouse and I believed that consistency was important, and that giving in to unjustified demands that contradicted standing rules was misguided. We applied this same principle to our many dogs in the course of fifty years, with excellent results. Until Bisou came along.

With all my dogs before her, mostly Shepherds and Setters, I had to work hard on eye contact. It became almost a reflex, before letting a dog out the door, or feeding it, or inviting it into the car, to stop and ask for a sit, and eye contact. The sit came easily enough, but the eye contact often took years to achieve. So I was charmed and amazed when Bisou, at nine weeks, came to us with perfect built-in eye contact.

I must have showered her with praise–it\’s always good to praise a puppy, right?–because she kept up the eye contact, and eventually honed it into a fearsome weapon that none of us can resist. Here is an example. My spouse is a benevolent but mostly uninvolved dog owner. The dogs have always been my delight and my responsibility, but he is glad to help out when I ask. Recently, getting ready to leave for the afternoon, I prepared Bisou\’s dinner, stowed it in the microwave, and asked my husband to feed her around 4:30. But my plans were cut short and I got home at 2:00–and found Bisou\’s empty bowl on the kitchen floor.

I ran into the living room, brandishing the bowl. \”What is this?\” I asked my husband. \”You didn\’t feed her already, did you?\”

\”Well,\” he answered, \”she stared at me and stared at me, and I figured that you must have made a mistake when you said not to feed her until 4:30.\”

That lesson, among others, was not lost on Bisou, who is now in her eleventh year of polishing the power of the stare. Did I mention that she\’s also going a bit deaf? This means that if she\’s busy sniffing outside and I call and she doesn\’t come right away, I can\’t get mad at her because, poor thing, she may not have heard me. So I call again, and again (exactly what I\’m NOT supposed to do) until she looks up, all innocence, and says \”Oh, it\’s you!\” and trots over and fixes me with her lustrous carnelian orbs. And I praise her for finally coming, and for making eye contact…and she stores it all in her excellent dog memory for future use.

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