My dog is very smart, but he is also very dumb.

For one thing, he can’t speak, so he’s “dumb” in that sense. But he also understands only like four or five words despite the fact that I talk to him almost constantly.

He’s deathly afraid of my guitar because one time—one time—he knocked it over and the sound it made upon landing scared the bejesus out of him. He makes me get his toy if it’s too close to the guitar. And one time he walked into a closed, glass door (we’ve all been there), and he refused to go through after I opened it until I walked through several times—several times—to show that it was safe.

But he’s smart. He remembers the places where people hide his toys. Sometimes it’s necessary to hide his toys to get a moment’s peace. In those moments he will run down the list of old hiding spots. He’ll sit by the refrigerator and whine until I demonstrate his toy is not there. Repeat with hutch. Repeat with kitchen table.

He also remembers rules exactly well enough to break them. He knows that he is not allowed on my bed, but he also knows I cannot kick him off the bed if I am asleep, so I often wake to find him curled up in the nook behind my knees. He knows he’s only supposed to play with his toy on the carpet, but he also knows that I will return his toy to him if it rolls off the carpet, so he sits by the edge of the room and tosses his toy onto the wood, I return it, repeat, repeat, repeat.

He loves to stop and sniff things on walks, but he also loves to be as far ahead of me as possible.

He loves to play catch, but he hates to give up anything long enough for me to throw it.

He loves to play with his toys, but he also loves to destroy them. The first toy I got him was supposed to be indestructible. In much the same way that God laughs when humans plan, my dog laughs when a toy is “indestructible.” Except he can’t laugh because he’s a dog, and also he doesn’t know the word “indestructible” because he’s a dog. I’ve since upgraded to the XTreme version, which is made from the strongest natural rubber known to humankind. Every day we humans travel further into the tropical rainforests, deeper into the ocean, and higher into the reaches of space, and we have not yet found a stronger natural rubber. Rubber barons and rubber scientists and rubber hobbyists around the world whisper among themselves: “no natural rubber is stronger than this.” The first Xtreme toy lasted three months. I’ve got a second and third now that have lasted about eight months because of my XTreme vigilance.

I’ve tried to explain all this to him, but he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t realize how often he makes me think about the fullness of life—not just the human condition, but the lived condition. He doesn’t realize it because he’s a dog and he’s dumb. Be he knows that I love him because he’s very smart, and he’s a very good boy.

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