Nearly every day during our walk, we come across one of the many adorable creatures that meander through our suburban Tampa neighborhood – bunnies, ducks, turtles, kitties, armadillos, squirrels and occasionally deer. Being at least 4 feet or so taller than the dogs and on the lookout for ‘danger,’ I tend to notice these local critters first. They are usually nibbling grass or hunkered down in the brush after spotting our little group. Initially, I was surprised that I’m the first in our group to notice. I’ve since realized that there are plenty of other fabulous things to smell – like light poles, tree trunks, and discarded food wrappers – to keep my pups’ minds occupied. It’s what happens next that always amazed me.
Let’s say we are walking along our sidewalk with conservation/green space to one side and road to the other. For discussion, let’s say I spot the exact same gray, taunting bunny munching on the exact same piece of grass that he eats at exactly the same time every single day (our walk-time – no matter when we go). Generally, like all good, smart, still alive bunnies do, he freezes in mid-chew staring at the spectacle of pre-occupied dogs and a leash-tangled human coming up the sidewalk. He stays motionless as we walk closer and closer. For a long time, I expected both of my prey-driven sight hounds to immediately smell or see the bunny and tear off after him like the excellent hunters they are.
Uh, no. A funny thing happens, either: 1.) the bunny stays absolutely still, and my two B-kids waltz right by his fuzzy butt to sniff the next interesting light pole, or 2.) if Mr. Bunny moves even a twitchy little ear, the dogs see him instantly and a mad-dash, drag-mom-in-the-bushes chase ensues. We could walk right by without incident IF the bunny could hold it together long enough for us to pass. So I realized that, like Jurassic Park’s Velociraptors, my Basenjis were MUCH better locators of moving prey. Like the running, screaming, about-to-trip female character in the movie who attracts the attention of all the Velociraptors for a terrifying chase, my pups clearly prefer (um, notice) moving ‘prey.’
This revelation over time gave me the idea that if I, being the superior spotter but the inferior chaser, was to ‘announce’ every stationary critter along our walk, I could create excitement, be prepared for the chase (instead of the usual “caught totally off-guard” chaos), and exercise the dogs to boot. So I started calling out critters as I saw them. “Look! A bunny!” At first, I just got a few wrinkled head tilts and confused stares as we continued to stroll right on by the target. “Kids! A kitty!” Soon, my boy started to catch on after a few excursions where I literally had to walk up to the creature until it ran. He began to trust that when I hollered “Squirrel!” or “Kitty!” that there was fun to be had nearby. I added pointing to the mix - and he learned that the general direction I was facing/pointing included the “Armadillo!” or “Deer!” I’m guessing Velociraptors did not have their mothers pointing out their prey, but once spotted, Basenjis and Velociraptors are both known for their speed, intelligence, and coordinated hunting movements.
The added benefit to our newfound activity, besides ridding the neighborhood of cuddly forest creatures, is that my dogs pay close attention to me on walks when anything exciting-sounding comes flying out of my mouth. And if I need to distract them, I can just holler a fuzzy critter name and point away from whatever they should not be getting into. It even came in handy when I told my boy there was a Kitty! in the garage to keep him from tearing around the neighborhood when someone inadvertently let him out. Shameful, I know.
Finally to wrap-up my non-biological thesis on the Dinosaur-Basenji connection, I figure I should add that beyond the similarity of blindness to non-moving prey, Basenjis match the origin of the Velociraptor name – in Latin, Velox means “Swift” and Raptor means “Robber or Plunderer.” Makes sense to me – Velociraptors and Basenjis are both very swift and cunning (food) thieves. My girl will plunder your plate faster than you can say “Squirrel!”
****I am happy to contribute to the Basenji Blog and will be posting monthly on the antics and headaches with my two basenji companions - Kirby Doodle (4yr old Red&White boy) and Saana Scamperpants (5 1/2 yr old Tri girl & BRAT Rescue)****