Early one morning, Jake the Dog and I set off for our daily constitutional. We watched the sun rise through a sky so fiercely red that it might almost have been on fire. I thought it was quite breathtakingly beautiful and so I stopped to admire it properly. "Isnt that the reddest sunrise you ever saw?" I asked Jake.
"I dont know," he said. "Dogs cant see anything at the red end of the spectrum. It just looks vaguely blackish to me."
"If you cant see red, how do you know the colour even exists?" I asked.
"Im studying physics in my spare time," he explained, "and weve just done refraction."
"I didnt know you had any spare time," I said. "I thought you just slept in between walks."
"Thats when I do all my studying," said Jake scornfully. "I close my eyes so that I can avoid distractions and concentrate on the subject in hand. Dont you know anything?"
"Sorry," I said. "I should have realised. I do know that you can count up to three, and that you understand the relationship between cause and effect. Those are really the only skills you need to be a brilliant physicist. I think youve made a good career choice there."
"Cause and effect?" asked Jake. He sounded a little puzzled. "I think Ive heard of that."
"Yes," I said. "Every time a dog salivates, a behavioural psychologist rings a bell. You cant have one without the other. Its a rule."
"Oh, I see," said Jake. "That would explain the constant ringing I get in my ears. I thought it was just ordinary tinnitus."
"Not at all," I said, "its all caused by you drooling far too much."
Jake stared up at me hopefully, strings of slobber hanging down from his jaw. "How about giving me a dog treat?" he asked. "It must be about time. Weve been walking for at least three minutes. Im very good at counting minutes as long as there arent more than three of them in a row..."
I tossed him a treat and he caught it skilfully in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully, then he swallowed and shook his head violently from side to side and up and down. The slobber strings flew up into the air and draped themselves over his face leaving long white streaks across his snout and forehead. His large, floppy ears rattled against his skull with the violence of his head shaking. "The bells!" he moaned dramatically. "The bells!"
The sunrise colours began to fade and so we walked on. Soon we reached a pleasant area of parkland. "Come on," said Jake impatiently. "This is an official off-lead area so you have to let me off the lead. I want to run over there so I can sniff the bits around the perimeter rather than the bits in the middle where you prefer to walk."
Jake has always been an edge dog. He likes borders and boundaries, those out of the way places where small creepy creatures lurk. Bushes and brambles grow there, and children throw away their unwanted lunch items into the undergrowth. Treasures abound.
"OK," I said and I unclipped his lead. He dashed off to investigate a promising bush. I watched him for a while but I soon got bored. He appeared to be sniffing every single leaf on every single branch of it and I could tell that he was going to be there for a very long time. "Ill go on ahead," I said. "Catch me up when youve finished here and Ill toss you another treat."
"Righto," said Jake. His voice was a bit muffled because he was chewing on something smelly and delicious. I wondered what it could be. I assumed Id find out soon enough. Over the years hes developed the habit of devouring his finds in situ and then dashing over to me so that he can vomit them up for me to admire. Once Ive congratulated him on his cleverness at hunting them down, he eats them again. Waste not, want not.
I walked slowly across the park, giving Jake plenty of time to catch up to me. After a while I started to get a bit worried. Where was Jake? He never usually stayed away from me for this long. What on earth could he be up to? I turned round and looked back to see what was going on and there he was, behaving very oddly indeed
Jake had abandoned his edgy bush and now he was running in a spiral outwards from a solitary tree. His nose was high in the air, sniffing eagerly. Every so often hed stop and sniff worriedly at the ground for a time. He seemed very puzzled that he couldnt find whatever it was that was attracting him. After a lot more sniffing up in the air and down on the ground he resumed his spiral. Eventually, it seemed that the smell of whatever it was he was hunting for must have faded away to nothing because when he reached that point he started spiralling inwards again, repeating his strange sniffing behaviour until he arrived back at the tree and came to a full stop. After a lot of agitated pacing he started spiralling out again. Lather, rinse, repeat
I called his name several times, but he completely ignored me. Clearly he had more important things to think about. So I walked back to the magic tree that was puzzling him so much. "Whats going on, Jake?" I asked.
"I have no idea," he said. He sounded quite frustrated. "Theres something really scrumptious somewhere around here, but I dont know where it is. I can smell it in the air, but the scent gets fainter the closer my nose gets to the ground and it disappears completely when I get far enough away from the tree. That doesnt make any sense at all. How can a smell stay in the air for so long without the thing that causes it ever falling down to the ground? Everything falls to the ground. Its a rule. Thats what physics is for!"
I took a closer look at the tree that Jake was spiralling around, and everything suddenly became clear to me. There were half a dozen small, but very widely-meshed, nets hanging from the trees upper branches. Each net was stuffed full with what looked like pork fat. Clearly somebody had set out a feast for the local birds. I explained all this to Jake.
"Thats dumb," he said. "Why would anybody want to feed the stupid birds when theres a perfectly good dog here who is more than willing to dispose of their pork fat for them?" He reared up, stretching his front paws as far up the trunk of the tree as he could get them. Unfortunately it wasnt anywhere near far enough and the pork fat remained tantalisingly out of reach. He flopped down to the ground again. "Its not fair," he grumbled. "Why cant dogs climb trees?"
This was clearly a rhetorical question, but I decided to answer it anyway. "Dogs cant climb trees because cats can climb trees," I said.
Jake looked puzzled. "Wha?"
"You know what happens when you chase a cat," I said.
"Of course I do," said Jake. "It happens to me all the time. The cat runs away and dashes up a tree or else it shimmies up the walls of a house and stands on the roof. Then it swears at me. Loudly!"
"Suppose you could climb as well as a cat," I continued. "Suppose you could actually chase it up the tree or on to the roof. Youd easily catch it. And then what would happen?"
Jake started to bark the Hokey Cokey song, not very tunefully, but very loudly.
"Id put the right cat in,
"Id put the right cat out,
"In out, in out.
"And shake it all about." he sang. "Ive always wanted to do that," he continued wistfully. "Its number one on my bucket list."
"But think what would happen if you, and all the other dogs in the world, did that to every cat that all of you ever saw," I said. "Before very long there wouldnt be any cats left to chase."
"So what you are saying," said Jake thoughtfully, "is that if dogs could climb trees there wouldnt be any cats out in the world. Cats only exist because dogs cant climb trees. Its one of those cause and effect things again, isnt it?"
"Thats right," I said. "But this time it has the unintended side effect that you cant eat the pork fat thats hanging in this tree."
"Bloody physics," said Jake, gloomily. "Or is it biology this time?"
"When in doubt, just call it engineering," I said. "That covers all the undefined edge cases."
"Perhaps its all for the best," said Jake. He sounded resigned to the situation. "After all, cats do have their place in the world. Somebody has to eat the cockroaches." Then he perked up a little as a sudden thought occurred to him. "But since cats can climb trees maybe one will climb up here and ambush the birds when they come for their pork fat feast. That would be a lot of fun. Can we wait and watch in case it happens?"
"No," I said. "Weve got to go home and get Robin out of bed. I need coffee and you need milk and neither of those things can happen without Robin."
Jake nodded, mollified by the thought of milk. I clipped his lead back on and we walked away from the tree. A bird began to yell, "Hey everyone, pork fat for breakfast!" Jake and I both pretended not to have heard, but I couldnt help noticing that Jake was drooling heavily again. He made a soft Meow sound under his breath and I knew exactly what he was thinking...
When we got home Jake raced into the bedroom, eager to tell Robin all about his morning adventures. He poked her with a stuffed llama, as one does. "Get up," he said. "Get up and play tug-o-llama with me. You pull one way, Ill pull the other and well let physics take care of the rest."
"Engineering," mumbled Robin, who was still half asleep. Robins degrees are all in the applied sciences. She has no time for airy-fairy abstract subjects like physics. Even in her semi-conscious state she wasnt going to let Jake get away with such an inaccurate statement. "Strength of Materials, to be precise," she continued. "Llamas are almost indestructible. So what we have here reduces itself to the problem of an irresistible force meeting an immoveable object."
Jake thought carefully about that. Finally he said, "Woof!"
Neither Robin nor I could refute such a well thought out argument so I left them alone to get on with whatever came next. This part of the morning has its own rituals that Im not allowed to share. Because shes Australian, Robin refers to it as Secret Womens Business. Im not too clear about exactly how it works, but I do know that it involves cereal and milk for Robin, milk for Jake and (eventually) coffee for me. Outside of that, I know nothing. So I was a little taken aback when, in the middle of the mystical ceremony, I suddenly heard Robin yell, "Jake! No! You horrible animal!"
Feeling that I might be committing sacrilege for interrupting something sacred, I hurried to investigate. Robin and Jake were standing looking at Robins bowl of breakfast cereal and Jake was drooling like Niagara Falls. "Has he been eating your breakfast?" I asked.
"Certainly not," said Jake, affronted. "Im only allowed to eat things that are in my bowl. This isnt in my bowl, therefore Im not allowed to eat it. Thats logic. Its called a syllogism." He sounded very proud of himself when he said that, as well he should be. Very few dogs know what a syllogism is, and fewer still know how to rigorously apply one. "But," continued Jake, "theres nothing in the rules that says I cant look. And this looks really, really, really yummy."
Great gobs of saliva dripped from his jaws and splashed into Robins breakfast bowl. "Theres more dog drool in there than there is milk," said Robin angrily. "What am I going to do now?"
"You could always try ringing a bell," I said. "Maybe somebody will give you a degree in behavioural psychology."