Who’s a good boy?

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, combining two cartoon memes: the familiar Psychiatrist, plus Good Doggie, a meme that is extraordinarily popular but, I believe, has appeared on this blog only once before:

(#1) Who’s a good boy? Who’s a good doggie? (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

Conventional ways of rewarding dogs by praising them, and so training them in whatever behavior they are being rewarded for. Just the tone of voice can be very satisfying to a dog, even more satisfying than a food reward.

But there’s still a puzzle here. Who’s a good boy? and Who’s a good doggie? are WH-questions, which in English have final falling intonation, the same as strong assertions, like You’re a good boy! and You’re a good doggie!; and the same as exclamations, like WhatSuch a good boy! and WhatSuch a good doggie!. All can be delivered with higher than normal pitch overall,  even higher pitch maxima than normal, and “warm” vocal qualities — in the “talking to dogs” voice.

So why use the who-question form, with its self-supplied answer You are! Yes, you are!? Where does this convention of language use come from? The assertions and exclamations are available anytime, off the shelf, as it were, but the who-questions are indirect in their effect and presumably have to be learned as conventional schemes for rewarding dogs with praise. Somewhere, sometime, there had to be first users of the schemes. However, as far as I know, no one has investigated the rise and propagation of these notable ways of talking to dogs.

The Good Doggie meme. In any event, these notable ways of talking to dogs have turned out to be fertile ground for cartoonists: the number of Good Doggie cartoons is just stunning. For illustrative purposes, I’ve restricted myself to New Yorker cartoonists, and just picked the first three who came up in a search. Somewhat weirdly, these three all have last names beginning with K. In order of their appearance in the New Yorker:

— by Jason Adam Katzenstein (who signs his cartoons JAK) on 12/5/15

— by Lars Kenseth (who signs his cartoons Lars) on 5/17/21

— by Paul Karasik (who signs his cartoons Paul Karasik) on 11/26/21

With, no surprise, three different approaches to the Good Doggie setting (with #1 as a fourth):

(#2) Shift to yes-no questions (which do have rising final intonation), plus the dog-shaking-hands routine (you just have to disregard the problematical aspects of a dog driving a car; things are different in CartoonWorld)

(#3) From the Condé Nast site, this description of the content: “Dog wearing a suit gives itself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror” (a pep talk that’s a kind of stew made from all those movies about salesmen)

(#4) A talking dog that understands the words and takes the who-question to be a genuine request for information not already known

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