It occurred to me recently after reading a Dave Barry commentary about whether dogs watch television that it was far past time to address one of the most vital of life's mysteries. It's a question that has perplexed the world's best thinkers ever since the hairy Brit Thor, the Earl of Glouschester, first chucked a spear into the end of a keg of warm beer. Do dogs understand darts?
Of course dogs watch television. Anyone who shares their living space with man's best friend has, at least once, observed their pet inspect the back of the set, especially when other dogs (and cats) are on screen, trying to find the animals inside.
As humorist Barry adroitly postulated, this behavior might also be considered proof that dogs share the intelligence of something along the order of a Saltine cracker. As everyone knows, wrote Barry, "the animals live inside the picture tube. Youngsters should feed them by pushing cold cuts through the VCR slot."
But seriously, my wife and I have a golden retriever named Colby and there is simply no doubt that he watches television, and that he is unimpressed with much of what he sees and hears.
Apparently other dogs are similarly disposed when it comes to airtime matter which they find objectionable. Dog Fancy Magazine recently reported that some dogs have been known to register their disapproval by "growling, head-butting or biting the screen", which I can appreciate. I did much the same just last week while watching a broadcast about the athletic merits of ballroom dancing, rationalizing its inclusion as an Olympic event. Colby, on the other hand, slept.
As Barry insightfully points out however, if the gurus of television show planning understood the potential of the dog television watching demographic, they would include the element of smell in their programming.
"Smelling is very big for dogs," wrote Barry. "If you walk your dog, and you pass a spot on the ground where any other dog, anytime in the history of the world, has left a smell, your dog will want to sniff the spot for approximately the rest of its life."
"Why? Because your dog's nose is an amazingly complex organ, that's why. Your dog appears to be sniffing some stupid smell over and over again, but in fact its nose is performing a sophisticated olfactory analysis, then transmitting the resulting analysis to your dog's brain, thus producing a pattern of neural firings that can be translated, roughly, as: 'Hey! A Smell!'"
Herein lies a great opportunity for darts. Mount a board. Dress Bucky Bakalec in a tuxedo (and flip-flops). Put Doreen Berry in a gown. Insert a special microchip into televisions everywhere to emit the aroma of hot dogs and Budweiser and, voila!, my grandmother and 10 million canines will sit glued to the Wide World of Sports. Darts would have an audience the size of Jerry Springer's. Really, this could be done.
Barry (no relation to Doreen) develops the smell theory further by going on to describe a week he spent dog-sitting his in-law's dog, "Daisy, who is a beagle, which means she is, biologically a nose with feet."
"Daisy spent the entire week trying to locate a cat that hangs out in our yard. Every time I took her outside, she'd race around the yard, nose to the ground, whimpering, detecting cat clues."
"Meanwhile, the actual cat, in person, would be sitting on a low wall, very cool, watching Daisy. Sometimes Daisy would be within three feet of the cat, wildly excited, sniffing the ground so hard that she was sucking ants into her nostrils. I'd point right at the cat and say, 'Look Daisy! There it is! The cat!'"
But Daisy ignored me. Her attitude was, 'I have no time to look at a cat you idiot! I'm hot on the trail of a cat!' Meanwhile the cat is shaking its head thinking, "No wonder they drink out of toilets.'"
But I digress ...
Dogs DO understand darts.
I used to throw at a place called Cousins Pub on Cape Cod. Occasionally I'd blow off work early to loosen up my arm in the middle of the afternoon. Often there would be a small puppy named Barney (no relation to Ray) scrambling about the joint. But, as I'd step to the line, he would calm and come sit beside me. His head would tilt perceptibly as his curious eyes intently followed the arc of my darts as they made their way, one after another, from my hand to the board.
When sometimes a dart would bounce out Barney would race to scoop it off the floor. I'd trade a pretzel for the return of my arrow. I'm telling you, the little guy understood. Darts meant pretzels. Barney would watch me, tail wagging, for hours.
My dog Colby also understands. Each Tuesday when I return late from league he is waiting patiently by the front door. He knows that when I depart on darts night I will return, always, with a Wendy's cheeseburger in a bag. Darts mean cheeseburgers. Colby has had this figured for the past dozen years.
And this is why I am certain that darts can make the big time in America. Commercials between matches could be specially programmed for the dog-watching public. As Barry has suggested, advertisers could target their products to the canine audience with smells and simple commercials ("Nose the receiver off the hook! Good Boy! Now press 321-3456 for Dominos!").
Some 90% of Americans own pets. Which by my calculation means that so do 90% of darters. Therefore, I encourage each and every one of you -- if you're sincerely interested in seeing our sport achieve the respect it deserves by getting its share of long overdue airtime -- to write to the network honchos and demand programming with appropriate smell content.
Also, and again to quote Barry, "I want to stress to young, impressionable readers out there (not Jerry Umberger) that I was just kidding about putting cold cuts into the VCR. You should use ice cream."
"Otherwise Bambi will die."
From the Field,