Q: We have a 7-year-old black Lab named Schoodic who is a dog lover’s dream come true. He is smart, funny, handsome, loyal and loving. He is extremely close to our daughter, Kate, who left the nest for college this year.
When we talk to Kate on Skype, she will often try to talk with Schoodic. We place the laptop close to him so he can see her, but he doesn’t seem to be able to recognize Kate on the laptop. We have tried holding a dog biscuit close to the screen. He loved the treat but went back to staring into space. Do you have any suggestions for teaching dogs to cross the great technology divide?
A: You have a Lab Luddite. Dogs bark, but they have no byte. They are techno-nothings, digital innocents. They understand technology only as far as you can throw a tennis ball. If they can’t smell it, Skype doesn’t exist. They can’t taste it. They can’t relate to it in any way — except through the TV, when some dogs get overly excited at the sight of other animals. They bark and jump at the screen because they presume the doggy through the looking glass is real. Alas, their hissy fits are folly.
When Dog Lady is away and calls home, the dog refuses to listen to the telephone when Mr. Dog Lady holds the receiver up to his ear. Heck, our dear and sorely missed pet gets downright huffy — or confused — and walks away. He may hear a familiar voice, but he makes it known that the procedure is bothersome and he’d rather not be a part of it. Sounds like Schoodic and Skype.
Dogs are present in the present — not the far-off and illusory. They don’t do holograms or ghosts in the machine. When Kate shows up in person, Schoodic will be all over her. For now, a dog biscuit near the laptop screen will have to sustain him. Don’t force your Lab to interact with something or someone he does not know or care about. When you talk to Kate on Skype, just let your dream dog wander about without forcing him to care about air.
Q: Why do dogs howl? My dog howls sometimes and I wonder what causes him to do this.
A: Why do birds chirp, lions roar, singers croon? Dogs howl because they can. With a howl, they exult, warn, fuss and communicate with their kith and kin. If your dog howls in pain, you must pay instant attention. Otherwise, there’s not much you can do about or understand about it. Howls are an ancient call of the wild, evoking an epoch when all dogs were wolves and the world was the forest primeval. Dog Lady always gets a bit of a thrill when the dog howls because it reminds me he’s a very different animal with claws in the otherworldly.
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