2008.01.23 Who let that dog out?

Written by David Green.


My wife and I generally don’t get outdoors for a walk until late at night. There will be an event to cover for the paper or she’ll work late at the library, etc., and we end up heading out into the dark.

  We’ve come to the conclusion that this is the time when people let their dogs out the door for excremental activities. Coming across some of those large canines in the dark have nearly caused excremental activities of our own.

Over the years we’ve established dog-free routes around town, but of course they change every so often. What was once a safe walking course is now marred by what appears to be a threatening yard protector. They all look a little threatening in the dark. You can’t see what their tails are doing.

I heard a dog trainer talking on the radio a few weeks ago about tail wagging. You can’t conclude that a tail-wagger is friendly, she said. It might still be wagging when its teeth are sunk into your hand.

You need to look for the full-body wag. Then you know you can approach safely. The happy dog wags with more than just its tail.

She suggested ways for people to approach a strange dog in a friendly manner. Do the full-body wag yourself. Cock your head to the side a little. Don’t approach the dog head on. Get down on all fours and prepare to be sniffed.

OK, I made that last one up, but why not go all the way? Head for the nearest tree and lift a leg. No dog is going to give you trouble when you’re going through all of that. The trouble will come from your neighbors. They might want to see you muzzled.

In the future, late-night walks might go easier because we’ll be able to understand by the tone of his bark whether or not a mutt is friendly.

A scientist named Csaba Molnár from Budapest recorded the barks of 14 Hungarian sheepdogs and ran them through computer software which could often identify the situation in which the bark was recorded.

Molnár concluded that dog barks carry a wealth of information. He found there’s somewhat of a uniform barking sound for “dog sees stranger,” but a lot of variation for “dog at play.”

Somewhere down the dog-filled road, I think there will be a hand-held device that will translate a dog’s bark so my wife and I will know whether or not we need to find a new route.

And speaking of dog devices, the Zoombak company sells a miniature Global Positioning System tracking device that connects to your dog’s collar. Never again will you wonder where your dog has run off to.

A quick look on your computer screen shows that he’s chasing pedestrians over on Burley Street. It even lays out the trail he followed, heading from your yard to the neighbor’s trash bag, to walkers down the street, etc.

You can create your own customized safety zone and once your dog strays from this area, you will instantly receive a text message or e-mail alert. All of this costs $200, along with a small service charge of 15 bucks a month with a one-year minimum. Cancelation fees may apply.

I have mixed feelings about this device. I don’t like the idea of dogs being tied to the end of a chain all their miserable lives—there’s one of those on our walking route, and I’m very glad he’s tied up—but I really don’t like them running loose, especially with so many aggressive breeds out there these days.

The Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator is great for tracking down a lost  dog, but for watching your dog roam around within a defined safety zone? I don’t think so. Not unless it knows how to talk to me.

Remember, there’s the Bow-Lingual dog bark translator that came out a few years ago—very reasonably priced on eBay—but you first have to affix a microphone device to the dog’s collar.

That’s not going to help with the dog that’s begun threatening us on East Congress between Maple Drive and East Street North. Our safe route has been tarnished.

I might have to begin communicating in the language of Teddy Roosevelt—“speak softly, but carry a big stick”—or maybe carry a package of hot dogs. Throw out a wiener, give a convincing full-body wag and now we’re communicating, no translation needed.

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