Mar 23, 2012
Gracie, The Ghost Dog
True story. When one of my kids asked for a dog, I naively made the bargain whereby if she saved enough money to fence in our entire one acre yard, I would buy the dog. A year later, the eleven year old came back to cash in on the bargain. Of course, I thought the dog-shopping process would be protracted. (I hoped it would be.) Her list of dog qualities were pretty steep. She wanted a large breed, a female, but the runt of the litter. It was a karmic joke when the first Great Pyrenees breeder I called had only one puppy left – a female, but the runt of the litter.
I had my own list of demands too. Puppy training was a must! So with our new puppy, we headed off to the local PetSmart puppy bootcamp. Gracie, as the wee-one had been dubbed, was miss mellow from the get-go. Truly, we could not have found a better dog for our family. She was easy to train, quiet, rode well in the car – everything you could ask for in a dog. On the way to puppy training every week, she was content to ride in the back of the car, only standing to look about when we stopped at intersections… with the exception of one intersection. The first time I stopped at the light at PetSmart, she stood, looked to the left, her little question-mark tail at attention, and barked her little head off. (Not literally. That would be a whole different sort of “ghost dog” story.) How odd?
The light changed to a green arrow, we moved off, and she stopped barking. The next week on our trek to puppy bootcamp, Gracie rode in the back of the car, standing to look around at all of the intersections, and at the one light next to PetSmart, she focused on the left side of the road and started barking her head off again. I’m a slow study. It took the full six-weeks of puppy boot camp for me to finally try to figure out what she might be barking at. On the left side of the highway is Holly Memorial cemetery. Still a slow study, I looked for the fluttery flag, or family of squirrels that could be drawing her attention. We drew-up alongside family cars with squealing children. We pulled up beside other pet owners. We tried to draw her out with pedestrians and bicyclists – nothing. Only the Holly Memorial Cemetery, and only when we were stopped long enough for her to glance to the left.
So we decided to put the freaky little puppy to the test. It was on a lark that I indulged the kids and pulled into the local churchyard. We sat in the car, motor running, with the graveyard off to the side. The puppy stood up in the back when we stopped, casually looked around, focused on something in the church cemetery, and started her emphatic barking again!
Nope. Couldn’t be. We drove a few miles further, (the dog settled down as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot,) and we headed down the road toward another church. I instruct the kids, no one was to look around in any direction. Everyone eyes forward. Don’t speak, don’t react. At the next church, we pulled onto the gravel drive that circles the graveyard. Sure enough, the dog stood, focused on the graveyard and started barking her head off.
Since that time, she performs the experiment like a parlor trick. We draw the dog into her routine on purpose with an accuracy rating of about 8 out of 10 times. Sure, we might be, unconsciously, giving her some sort of clue. Or maybe she does see something we don't.
For more fun, you can see Gracie on youtube. Her video is here.