Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bagpipes and dogs

I covered Ortonville’s Creekfest today for the paper — check Sunday’s edition for the article — and it was great to see so many dogs out and about.
The day began with a pet parade. One young bagpiper and one young drummer led the dogs and their owners down Mill Street, through the downtown, and the parade ended at Kearsley Creek.
I’m Scottish. It’s my nature to love bag pipes, and I do. When I walked down the aisle at my wedding, bagpipes played a version of “Here comes the bride.” It was fantastic.
But, what about our dogs? Do you think they like bag pipes as much as we do?
Hmmm. Let’s think about our experiences with bagpipes.
They’re loud. Ear-piercingly loud. Sometimes, when a certain note is hit and you’re standing too close, you think your eardrums are about to explode.
While some of the notes are rather soothing, others have an almost alarming pitch about them.
And what do we know about dogs? Well, we know their hearing is incredibly better than ours. Their ears are so very sensitive to sound.
I’d say, if a dog becomes terrified of bagpipes, it wouldn’t be unusual.
In fact, I think I saw a dog today that will forever dislike bagpipes.
I was talking to this guy, a breeder of Old English Mastiffs, who brought five of his dogs out. OK, maybe I was doing more drooling over these gorgeous dogs than I was talking, but still.
I’m standing there and petting these magnificent monsters — the 17-month-old male was already 200-plus pounds — and he’s telling me how friendly they are. And they are. People were walking up from right and left to pet these dogs, and the dogs were just taking it all in.
One of them even decided to lay down there and relax, right in the middle of all that commotion.
Then the parade started getting closer and closer. Right as the bagpipes came alongside us, I spotted our photographer and waved to him. At the same moment, the bagpiper blared into one of those shrill, ear-piercing notes and the photographer jogged toward me.
Let’s take note of the situation and everything that’s happening at once: 1) I’m waving and shouting; 2) a man is running toward me, 3) a bagpipe is blaring its loudest note, and 4) behind the bagpiper, about 20 dogs and people came marching.
The mastiff freaked out. He barked and it seemed ferocious, but I just looked at the guy and felt badly for him. He went from having a relaxed day to watching what must’ve looked like, in his canine eyes, utter chaos breaking out around him. With loud, shrill noises to top it all off.
I think it’ll all come back to the bagpipes for this dog. He seemed rather relaxed, so maybe he won’t carry it forward as a fear. But he’s young and impressionable too.
Maybe he will.
The owner settled him down in a matter of seconds and the parade and the festival carried on. The dogs behind the bagpiper didn’t seem to be bothered by the noise, and the group of mastiffs and their owners even joined the parade, bringing up the rear.
But I thought to myself, what another example of humans’ complete discord with dogs.
From a canine behavior standpoint, I wouldn’t put a bagpiper and a dog in the same yard.
As much as I love bagpipes, I think our dogs probably feel tortured by such a shrill noise.

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