Politics is a dog-eat-dog business where it pays to read between the lines. So when Russia's President Putin presented Angela Merkel with a stuffed toy puppy Monday, her surprise may have been tempered with suspicion.
After arriving back in Berlin, Putin's gift was put straight to work outside the Bundestag
Angela Merkel could be excused for scratching her head all the way back to Berlin on her flight home from Moscow after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week.
Not only did Putin give very mixed signals as to what, if any, support he would give Merkel and the other EU leaders in the Iranian nuclear stand-off, he also presented her with a strange parting gift.
Politicians and leaders are notorious for lavishing items such as Rolex watches, jewelry, even expensive vacations on each other as way of a "thank you" for a state visit. The extravagance of the present is often perceived as an indication as to the respect and admiration one has for the other.
You ain't nothing like a hound dog: Putin puts on the charm.
So one can only wonder where the German chancellor stands in Putin's esteem after being handed a small black and white toy dog that would not look out of place on the prize shelf at a fairground shooting gallery. (In case you were wondering, yes, we fooled you with the picture above -- the German sheperd had to do as a stand-in as Merkel's present is being kept under wraps.)
While the two are unlikely to get as close as Putin and Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder, it is also unlikely that the stuffed animal is a reflection of the president's opinion of the Germany's latest leader. However, could it have been a coded political message?
A coded message of Puti n 's hopes for the future?
Maybe it meant that he expects Frau Merkel to follow obediently behind as he continues to ignore international pressure regarding Russia's human rights record. Or that the chancellor will be required to bare her teeth and growl at detractors in the EU who dare to mention Russia's continued involvement in Chechnya. Or maybe he sees the pair of them just sitting cozily by the fire together in his Black Sea retreat.
Sadly the real reason behind the gift is likely to be less cryptic.
"Don't worry, Angie. It's stuffed."
According to German tabloid Bild, the chancellor was bitten by a dog at a very young age and has been afraid of them ever since. The paper suggests that President Putin's plush pooch has a gentler role to play in Merkel's life, helping her to get over her fear of canines.
It could also be a sign that Putin's bark is worse than his bite. Could this be the start of some puppy love?