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The Canine in Conversation
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figure 1

 

you can't fool kids and dogs. While adults may be taken in by superficial qualities such as clothing or speech or looks, children and dogs—presumably unfettered by any preexisting bias—can more readily tell whether a person is trustworthy or not.

When Anderson Cooper used this phrase to title a short segment, even his sidekicks seemed a bit puzzled.reference 1 However, it is not something he made up. In her romance novel, Northwind, Mildred Hegerle lays it out in a bit of gossipy dialogue: “I wouldn't blame you one bit if you were a little attracted to him—he sure is handsome. And I like the way Megan and even Fluffy took to him. I always heard you can't fool kids and dogs.”reference 2

I am not so sure about the kids part, but there may be some basis for the instincts of dogs. Apparent social location or class definitely does not sway them. At the same time, they are keenly sensitive about how they are treated and typically eager to know how they will rank in relationship to a newcomer. And, they are capable of smelling things that might reveal quite a bit about unsavory habits.

Implicit also in this homily is the assumption that dogs do not feign emotions that they do not feel. Devious and manipulative as dogs may be, we presume that their motivations are transparent: that they do not lie or deliberately mislead. This presumed trait is evident in the prosecution's thinking during the O.J. Simpson trial. When he took the witness stand, neighbor and screenwriter Fablo Fenjves described the “plaintive wail” of Nicole Simpson's dog Kato.reference 3 Marjorie Garber quotes prosecutor Cheri Lewis as saying “that's a very important phrase.”reference 4 Garber goes on to note, "It was as if only the dog could tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”reference 5 It was not simply that the dog's barking was used to establish the time of the death, but the emotion that Kato expressed was presumed to be both authentic and easily perceived.

1. Gottlieb, Jody. 2008. You Can't Fool Kids and Dogs. In Anderson Cooper 360. CNN. May 21.

2. Hegerle, Mildred Ruth. 2004. Northwind. New York: iUniverse. 53.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Yes, the dog was named Kato after the pool guy, Brian “Kato” Kaelin.

4. Garber, Marjorie B. 1996. Dog Love. New York: Simon & Schuster. 220.

5. Ibid.

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This bit of folk wisdom about kids and dogs finds an interesting counterpart in the popular culture of the early 20th century. The line “Anyone who hates children and dogs can't be all bad” is often attributed to W.C. Fields. This was actually said about him by Leo Rosten at a Masquers Club banquet in Hollywood on the anniversary of Field's 25th year in show business.reference 6 Was it that Fields knew that kids and dogs were not fooled by his outward appearance?
6. Partridge, Eric, and Paul Beale, ed. 1992. A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day. Rev. and updated ed. New York: Scarborough House.
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About the illustrations: Figure 1 © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is Leo Rosten. I believe that this is a publicity photograph taken when the Joys of Yiddish was reissued. I found it in numerous places on the net without attribution. It is used without permission.

see also: sniff out; curious incident of the dog in the night-time Last updated: June 6, 2008
by Alec MacLeod 2001-2008  Dogmatic Technologies Oakland Creative Commons unless otherwise expressly stated, all original material of whatever nature created by Alec MacLeod and included in The Canine in Conversation and any related pages, is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Please read the Terms of Use Agreement by Alec MacLeod Dogmatic Technologies