With almost a billion of them in the world they are hard to ignore and while they don’t exactly speak our language, nor we theirs, the relationship between us is nonetheless a symbiotic one. And in the best and most fulfilling of those relationships, it’s a full-on sensory experience.
I don’t speak dog and I don’t know any dogs that speak human, but when it comes to the bond between dogs and human beings we still manage to understand each other. Sometimes to a degree that is almost uncanny.
The senses are vital in that two-way communication, with touch, sound and smell particularly crucial.
Whether it’s a dog that delivers an excited bark when his lead is lifted by his owner, therefore signalling that a walk is in the offing, or a dog that jumps on the sofa beside you, snuggling so close you can feel the warmth of each other’s bodies, communication is very much the name of the game. And it’s a beautiful thing.
Enter the DogPhone, a new-fangled device that comes in the shape of a soft ball which, when moved by the dog, sends a signal that starts a video call with the owner.
A video call between man and beast? Sorry, but no, and that’s not just because it’s bonkers, but because it’s actually cruel.
Yes, we know dogs can recognise people (and other things – other dogs, for example) on a screen but even Nicholas Dodman, the chief veterinary officer for DogTV, a network designed for dogs (yes, honestly) recently acknowledged in a National Geographic interview: “It’s a bizarre place for your face to pop up when the rest of you isn’t there.”
Research has also shown that on seeing their owner’s face on the TV screen some dogs try to get to the back of the television to find them in person, only to discover, of course, they are not there. Distressing? Definitely.
Our dogs love to see us after a period of separation, be that two hours or two weeks, but not on a screen.
How on earth can that be any comfort to them? No belly scratch, no ear fondling, no rubbing themselves against their owner’s legs or jumping to lick their face so they can express their love and gratitude that you are there – in person – and back with them again.
I have never forgotten what one vet told me many years ago when I was worried about leaving my two dogs while I went abroad for a month.
Would it be a good idea, I asked him, if I rang the person minding them, maybe once a week, and she let me ‘talk’ to the dogs, just so they could hear my voice?
Definitely not, he said. It would totally confuse them because they would hear my voice but I wouldn’t be there. The sound of my voice was simply that – a sound that didn’t come with what they really needed, my scent and my touch.
If you spend so much time away from your dog that you think a DogPhone video call is the answer, then it’s not a phone your dog needs, it’s a new owner.