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The Strange Canine Custom Of Car Chasing

IF you've never lived out in the country a-ways, you may not know that dogs sometimes chase after cars that drive by. I do live in the country, and am well-acquainted with this particular canine custom. Oh boy, am I ever. I've done a little reading on the subject and have learned the basic scientific ``why'' of car chasing by dogs. It seems it essentially has to do, so the experts say, with a dog's defense of territory, which they're prone to guard most doggedly, er, zealously. I don't know about you, but that sounds about right to me.

But what I've never understood at all is why it is that only some dogs chase cars, and not others. So I set out to conduct some scientific experiments on the topic, with this being the resultant accounting of what I found out. You should know, though, before you read further, that many of the findings I'll be reporting are pretty, well, ``amazing'' is the best term I can think of to describe them.

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The experimental procedure I used for my study was pretty darned elaborate and somewhat technical, as these things tend to be, so I'll spare you the tedium of the several details and will get instead to the essence of what I did.

But for the purists among you, let me hasten to say I knew going in that all the scientific-methodology books say over and over how the investigator (that'd be me in this instance) should enter into his/her investigation without any preconceived notions of what the investigation may likely turn up.

Well, that may be sound counsel in theory, but when it comes right down to day-to-day practicalities, I found, at least for me, that it just flat-out won't work. At any rate, the preconceived notions I started out with were these: that dogs differentially chase cars (1) because of a particular car's shape or size OR (2) because of a car's color OR (3) because of some other reason.

To test each of these possibilities, I used four VW ``bugs'' (a red dilapidated one and a red top-notch-condition one; a white dilapidated one and a white top-notch-condition one) and four 1980 Chevy station wagons (one red and dilapidated; one red and in top condition; one white and dilapidated, one white and in top condition).

For dogs I used two basset hounds. The larger one's name was Lucy; Peaches was the other one. Each was presumed to not be blind, presumed able to hear pretty good, and both were presumed to be about the same age and in equal health.

TO mitigate the possibility that dogs may choose to chase or not chase cars not because of anything having to do with the cars per se but, rather, because of their distaste for or liking of a car's driver, I was the sole driver throughout the entire experimental procedure. (This procedural precaution cannot, of course, allay the possibility that two otherwise similarly constituted dogs may, because of differing personalities, react differently to a given human individual. But then even science can't be 100 percent fool-proof-perfect - can it?)

So what I did was I borrowed the dogs from a neighbor, the cars from a new-and-used car dealer in town and brought them all out to our house in the country. My wife, Susan, always thinks all dogs are just naturally either hungry or thirsty, or both, so she insisted on setting out big bowls of Alpo and fresh-drawn well-water for Lucy and Peaches while I took the cars down the road a-ways preparatory to driving.

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Again, without going into all the oh-so-tedious details, here's the essence of what my very scientifically conducted study turned up on why some dogs chase cars and others don't: (1) On my first of three drive-bys, Lucy chased the red dilapidated VW and white top-condition station wagon; Peaches chased only the red dilapidated station wagon; (2) On my second drive-by, Lucy and Peaches both chased only the white top-condition VW ``bug'' and the red top-conditioned station wagon (3) On my final drive-by, no car was chased by either dog. (They both had their faces buried in their Alpo bowls, I noticed.)

NOW, the way I see it, there're several conclusions to be drawn from these amazing findings. One is that bassets name Lucy hate (or are amorously drawn to?) dilapidated red and top-condition white VW ``bugs'' and both red and white top-condition station wagons, while bassets named Peaches hate or are inordinately attracted to top-condition white VW ``bugs'' and dilapidated and top-condition red station wagons.

Or that the chased cars differed from the nonchased cars in the smell or air/ground vibrations each gave off as it was driven past the two dogs. Or that one of the dogs (I suspected Lucy, but had no way of accurately knowing) was simply either crazier or stupider than the other. Or that until the third and concluding drive-by, when they'd had time to discover the difference, both dogs more or less randomly mistook the chased cars for bowls of Alpo. Or that their chasing was brought on by some unexamined other reason altogether.

If, as is said, the hallmark of successful scientific research is that it raises more questions than it answers, this particular study of why some dogs chase cars and others don't qualifies as being particularly fruitful. And of all the amazing questions it's raised, the one that's, to me, most intriguing is why it was that one or the other dog chose not to chase either the red, top-conditioned or white, dilapidated VW ``bug'' or the red or white dilapidated station wagon.

Would things have turned out differently had Susan been the driver? Would Susan have chased one or another car if Lucy or Peaches hadn't? Would I, had our respective roles been reversed?

I don't know.

I just don't know.

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