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The Yankee Express

A Two-Year-Old Luke Learns to Communicate

By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

dog’s expression is one of my favorite dog qualities. That they love unconditionally, forgive easily, and offer us undivided attention goes without saying. But the unique way in which a dog expresses himself, and thereby communicates, defines a dog’s personality. Have you ever noticed how Dog People brag with fellow Dog People about their pets? “That’s Buster. He’s having his first ice cream cone.” Proud owners scroll through cell phone pictures and tell stories. “That’s my Summer with my granddaughter. Isn’t she beautiful?” Dog stories unravel out of pure appreciation and love for a dog’s unique personality. Luke’s expressions, admittedly, have made me gush.

Sensitive Luke

Though bittersweet (this one breaks my heart) I adore the way Luke has learned to beg from a safe distance, so that he’s not a bother to us. I’ve owned numerous dogs. All have drooled shamelessly at my heels. Luke is different. Luke will watch my family congregate and sit down for a meal, then move to another room to wait for us to finish. I can’t help but pop up from the table to visit him during such times. “Luke, you are such a good boy. Mummy is so proud of you.”  He lifts his head seriously, as though to say, “I’m fine. Go on and finish. I only eat twice a day, while you shovel down six small meals, but go ahead, I’ll wait my turn.” 

Snuggly Luke

Nothing quite compares to Luke’s snuggling expression while resting on the couch with us. Nestled in the crook of my husband’s arm, or on my son’s chest, he rests with the ease of a dog loved. After losing Lincoln, we struggled to envision snuggling with another. After all, Lincoln was the king. The thought of hugging another Golden didn’t seem fair to my partner-in-crime, a dog who rested his sweet head on my lap in the backseat of a black Infinity after refusing to leave my side to go into the vet’s room (despite Covid restrictions) on his last day. Dogs know. Every so often, Luke nods to the ceiling for no reason. What’s up there, Luke? I can’t help but wonder if he senses Lincoln looking down on him as though to say, “Take care of my people, little Luke.” One dog doesn’t cancel out the love for the next. Rather, dog love is doubled.

Luke entered our home only two years ago. It’s hard to imagine life without him now. We’ve collected more dog hairs, messes, and mishaps, but our lives are full. The opportunity to snuggle with a live FAO Schwarz teddy supersedes an immaculate home. Add the freshly groomed scent of his aloe shampoo (when he doesn’t rub it off in the yard), and we’re officially healed! We trade off perfection for the injection of a dog’s unconditional support and love. Luke, notably, is the first dog allowed up on our couch. What were we thinking back then? 

Ferocious Luke 

This expression, fiercely juxtaposed with that of the teddy bear, takes me by surprise. Especially when, yet again, Luke throws a tantrum over the rush of hose water. Most of my dogs have loved water play. Nothing new here. Yet none have attacked the hose with a temper like Luke’s. The dog is certifiably crazy when he sees the rush of hose water.  I’ve had to be strategic while outside in the garden. I’ve tried to water flowers in peace, changing the nozzle setting to that of a soft, sprinkling shower. Harmony. I wave the hose innocently over a few plants, but I’m not subtle enough. Detective Luke senses what’s happening. He rushes at me, a dog in a bullfight costume, and bucks the wavering direction of the hose. He springs up and darts at the stream as though protecting the entire planet from rushing water. He shakes water droplets off his mane and hacks like a crazy dog. “Bring it on, Hose!” The scene is absurd. The image of a Dog Trainer dressed in a monogrammed blue jacket flashes through my mind. “Leave it, Luke!” He disobeys. ‘Don’t screw with me, Nozzle!”  I lose my patience and use the hose as a gun to spray his face. “Luke, please!” The aggression inflates his male ego. He throws his big head into the rush of water and air-bites the bubbles. A drive-by sighting just may have both of us committed, I resort to a sorry defense.  “Go ahead.” I let Luke win. The hose rests lifelessly on the grass. I watch its power melt like the wicked witch reduced to a hat alone.  Luke hovers over the bubbler and takes a drink.

Intelligent Luke

Luke is a thinker. His thoughtful expressions, and the careful way in which he tilts his head and stares up at me to communicate his needs, touches my heart. How remarkable! —that Dog and Human can have an entire non-verbal conversation. 

“Hi Momma. I have something on my mind.”

“Hi Luke. Do you want to Go Sit on the steps?”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

“Do you want me to Bring your Bone, Luke?” 

“Are you serious?” His expression stills again.

“Do you want Mummy to Go Get it?” (I trade-off enabling a Luke that’s no longer a baby, for the joy of meeting his dog needs). 

“Look, Luke! Mummy brought your bone!” I emphasize my support.

Teddy Bear Luke stares up at me. He wants something more.

“Do you want some peanut butter on the bone, Luke?”

“Momma- you are so smart! That’s exactly what I had in mind, too!” 

Watch-Dog Luke

Whether it’s to protect my family, police the hood, or keep the bunnies in line, Luke’s watch-dog abilities are extraordinary. I’ve learned to listen to my dog’s watchful expressions, along with their bark-tones throughout the years. Dogs sense what we cannot. Granted, Luke can be overly sensitive. I once opened the front door to respond to Luke’s bark. A van pulled up to the front of my neighbor’s lot across the street. “Luke, that’s just the Repair Main. It’s okay.” He looked up at me, then back at the van, to voice a final opinion. “I don’t buy it. Where’s the logo?” 

Luke notices details. He’ll watch children get off the bus and break into a two-year-old smile. “I’ve known those girls my whole life. Gosh, they’re getting so big.” Nothing quite compares to Luke’s expression when watching his big brother, my son, arrive home from work. “Oh my gosh. He’s parking. He’s going to get out the car, I can feel it. He’s been gone this whole day, but now he’s back again and I cannot wait to tell him how much I’ve missed him! His mouth opens and closes to Ben’s movements. His tail wags, He edges closer to the car and bows to a downward dog position. “I am the luckiest dog ever.” 

Patient Luke

Luke’s patient expression reminds me of how much he needs me. He’ll rest his big head over his paws and sulk until I’m ready to take him for a walk. “I wonder if I’ll get my walk in today.” Luke receives two to three walks per day, yet consistently feels sorry for himself. “I’m a big dog with bigger needs than a cat, but I’ll be fine. You get to explore four different gyms, drive fast along highways, and meet dozens of humans per day. Me? I’m a dog. I stare at the same four sights every day. But take your time. I’ll be fine.” 

Nothing makes me happier than pulling Luke out of his funk. “Luke- are you ready to go for a walk???” I emphasize the phrase so that its sinks happily into his big head. Then I grab his harness, and he dashes off to his bed to play hard-to-get. “I don’t want to wear a jacket.” Another dramatic episode unfolds. Living with Luke is never dull. Stay tuned for the next story!  

Find Luke on Instagram @livingwithlukevalentino.

Write to Amy – [email protected]