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This farm dog is along for the ride


Returning from the field one recent evening, our new puppy noticed my return and was there to greet me as I opened the pickup door. In an instant, despite its diminutive size, it had bounded from the ground like one of Santa’s reindeer, barreled headlong across my lap, turned and sat down in the utterly classic pose on the passenger seat.  Looking out the window for all purposes like he owned the truck, the farm, if not the next-over universe.

I have yet to see in the ads of dogs that the breed in question is of good truck-dog stock. Good with children gets mentioned as does mild-mannered and house-trained, but not good with trucks with farm plates. To confess the farm truck is a specialized kind that doesn’t look, smell or act like a standard car or truck.

 Instead comes in evident flavors of 80-90 weight oil, hay, straw, pesticides, poop, silage, something dead, if some things worse than dead. This mention being a certain theme of my darling who notices the curious odors I occasionally bring home.  She regularly suggests my truck cab smells worse than dead.

In my fair defense there is a spectrum to this dead business, besides the big difference between dead and long dead and yet another for long past dead. This gradient a known circumstance of any quality farm pick-up that tends to emote the flavors of the current harvest, demise or accident. Pea vines go from pleasantly aromatic to hopelessly pungent rather quick, and that sample cob attracts mice who inconveniently die somewhere in the cab.

My belief is the average truck dog appreciates this spectrum bouquet of the farm truck aligned as it is with the qualities of a good burrow. But to add the potential of a window seat, hopefully an open window. Given the resident burrow smell, an open window is pretty much de rigueur.

To my best science, the dog’s loyalty to the truck is less aligned to the perspective on the world offered by the window seat as the increase by several factors what the truck window affords the average dog’s take on the world, through the office of its nose. What a pickup at even modest velocity provides. 

It is said the average dog has 300 million scent receptors in its nose, while the average human being has a rather paltry 7 million. If you care to do the math the difference is 40 times and this in a nose only a few times larger than the average human nose. Seems nature distinctly short-changed the human nose in this category which may explain girlie calendars if still a mistake on the part of creation. Granted, some French presume a higher caliber of nose, but even the French can’t touch a dog’s nasal literacy.

Science suggests a dog can smell and differentiate to one part per trillion. In case you’re wondering, a drop of water in 13 gallons is one to a million, one drop in 13,000 gallons is a billion to one, a trillion to one is one drop in 13,000,000 gallons. This drop what an average dog can smell. As for a blood trail, a piece of cake.

I have often wondered what it would be like to have that ability. Able to tell if a car driving by on Highway 51 a half mile away had a hamburger in the vehicle, or a baby, or drugs.  A dog can smell when someone is pregnant, in love, had an affair and with who. A dog can probably tell when we’re lying, nervous, have cancer, or vote Democrat.

If we could but smell like dogs a jury could convict on smell alone, doctors could diagnose by smell, and true love would never go unrequited.

Hanging out with dogs is a human trait, dating some 50,000 years, or about 500,000 dog years. Human survival has been predicated on our use of tools, fire, and eventually farming. I am among those who favor our partnership with dogs was an equal contributor. And then there is the pickup truck. Not saying farming is impossible without dogs, if a lot more lonely. 

Justin Isherwood of Plover is a fifth-generation farmer and the author of Book of Plough,Christmas Stones & The Story Chair, and Farm Kid: Tales of Growing Up in Rural America.