Call me a crazy dreamer, but I'm convinced that my dog Tanner desperately wants to learn how to cook.
Every time I am in the kitchen, there is Tanner, a very bright sheltie, looking up at me with his pleading eyes, wanting to know what I know about preparing delicious meals. At the slightest indication I am in the kitchen ready to create -- the opening of the refrigerator door, the clank of the toaster assembly going down, the gentle purr of the can opener -- Tanner magically appears, hoping against hope that this will be the time my confusing and magical actions will finally make sense to him.
When I am preparing a dish that involves numerous steps and varied ingredients, Tanner is a faithful silent witness. He watches each ingredient being added, each mixture being mixed, beaten and folded, and I can just hear his mind asking, "What is he doing now? What is that ingredient he's adding? How much of that white powder is he putting in?" But, alas, he gets no answers to these questions. Oh, how this dog wants to LEARN.
Mrs. Muley can be quite the cynic at times. She says that Tanner doesn't want to cook, he just wants to eat. Just this morning she said, "Drop some raw hamburger on the floor, and see if he goes for a cookbook. He'll eat that meat within seconds. He's an animal. They do that."
When she says this, I can't help but remember that people once thought Helen Keller was an animal, too. Remember the movie The Miracle Worker? At the first, Helen was acting like an animal, eating food off the floor, throwing food at the wall, cramming food into her mouth with her bare hands. All it took was a determined teacher named Annie Sullivan to unlock the real Helen, the one who folded her napkin and ate with knife and fork. When Helen finally said "WAH-WAH" and realized it meant "water," a whole new world was opened up to her.
But how do I play Annie Sullivan to my dog Tanner in the kitchen? I have yet to come up with a way. I tried putting different ingredients down on the floor once and saying the name of each to Tanner, but in his excitement at finally getting to learn he ate each ingredient before I could finish. I'm thinking that I must develop some sort of language to allow me to communicate with him.
Sign language won't work because Tanner doesn't have fingers and thumbs. I have two ideas I'm chewing on. One is a modified form of Morse code, with short and long barks to represent letters. I could modify that to high- and low-pitched barks if it works better.
The other communi- cation method would be a pictograph system, where each ingredient, appliance and utensil would be represented by something else. For example, on the side of the blender I could attach a picture of a squirrel. Then, when I pointed to a picture of a squirrel, Tanner would know he needed to use the blender. A jar of spaghetti sauce could have a picture of a shoe on it, and when I showed Tanner a picture of one shoe, that would mean he should use a tiny bit of sauce, two shoes would mean use a little more, ten shoes would mean use a lot, etc.
If I can persevere and teach Tanner to cook, not only will I be comforted to know that this deep yearning in his heart will be fulfilled, but I could get filthy rich. There would be TV appearances, a series of Tanner cookbooks, and cooking classes for dogs based on whatever method finally works. This could be how I occupy myself during the last half of my life -- teaching America's dogs to cook.
But for now, I've got baby steps to take first. I've got to teach Tanner that when you drop an ingredient on the floor during cooking, you don't eat it, you throw it away. And after you throw it away, you don't come back later and eat it out of the garbage can. Such simple lessons, but my dog is smart and wants so much to learn. I just know it.
DISCLAIMER: No dogs or squirrels were injured in the production of this post. One jar of Ragu was slightly moistened.