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Licking the Bowl
I’m more like dogs than I care to admit

It’s usually with great pride that I take note of similarities between myself and dogs. If I greet someone with genuine enthusiasm or consider how well I am living in the moment or if I choose a delicious nap instead dealing with some of my paperwork, I pat myself on the back. We all know that everything we need to know we learned in Puppy Kindergarten, right?

Recently, though, I realized that I share a behavioral pattern with dogs that is not so special or admirable: I lick my plate. I’m not saying that I’m a member of the clean plate club or bragging that I eat my vegetables. No, there are occasions when I literally lick my plate.  We expect this sort of behavior from dogs. Most of them are extremely enthusiastic about food, but not picky about it and not into savoring it. They are not discussing the oaky overtones or the interesting way that the duck flavor blends with the sweet potato. They are just making sure they haven’t missed a morsel.

Concern about missing a speck of food is important to me only once in a while. I don’t lick my plate every time I eat, but rather only after one particular meal, and I have a good reason for it. Still, I felt sheepish when members of my family joked that I must have become a plate licker because of my personal and professional relationship with dogs.

So, here’s what’s going on with me. I used to overeat every time we had pancakes. I would eat a few pancakes, and then realize I had some extra maple syrup. I lived in New England for years, I adore real maple syrup, and I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting even a drop of this precious commodity. So, I would take another pancake to avoid wasting the syrup, but sometimes there wouldn’t be enough syrup, and I’d add more. Basically, I ended up eating to excess in my attempt to match up syrup and pancake. Finally, I realized that I could solve the problem by licking the syrup after my initial serving of pancakes. Of course, it’s inelegant, but it is healthier because I don’t eat as much. My kids—who as young children loved to lick water out of bowls to pretend that they were dogs—are so repulsed by my plate-licking behavior that I always sneak into the kitchen to do it so nobody has to watch.

There are so many traits we could share with dogs that would make us better people—loyalty, enjoyment of life, fairness to all people, emotional perceptiveness—but licking the plate is far from the most commendable, and it is certainly not the classiest.

Do you share something with dogs that nobody considers one of their most admirable traits?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

Photo by eddiemcfish

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