Dogs understand their language. I don’t. I can only imagine what message they communicate with barking, woofing, snarling, to say nothing of their sometimes nose-to-butt body language.
But my big-eared dog, Rocky, some mutt combination of rat terrier, Chihuahua and maybe even a bit of corgi, is ever alert for messages from other dogs and even other species. And he’s media agnostic. Live or Memorex? He doesn’t care.
Rocky came from a Johnson County shelter that had rescued him from a terrible home environment. He was with other dogs from the shelter at a PetSmart location seeking adoption.
Only you couldn’t see him. He wasn’t in one of the metal kennels with the other dogs with pleading eyes and wagging tails. Not Rocky. He was in his own separate cage, covered up with a blanket because all he did was bark and fight with other dogs if he was out with them or even saw them.
No matter, he was the smallest dog in the group. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog and all that. Should have been a clue.
When we did get him out of the cage to meet us, he didn’t run over and greet his prospective owners. Nope, he jumped into a washtub full of squeaky toys and attempted to play with – and rip apart – each and every one. So many toys, so little time. When we took him for a walk through the PetSmart store, he tried to grab every toy and shiny object within reach. Fortunately, he was cute, loveable and adorable. The PetSmart employees were nearly tearful as they said goodbye.
While Rocky seemed to want to prove his toughness in the shelter, at home he had issues. Stress being one. Even if we were doing something mundane – like arguing over where the TV remote was – Rocky would slink off and cower under a bedside table. Whatever home the shelter had retrieved him from must have had some high-voltage stress. Rocky couldn’t handle it.
Fortunately, he did settle down – somewhat. A mountain of fluff can often still be found where a stuffed toy once existed. Working out his aggression, I guess.
But unlike many dogs I’ve known, Rocky – perhaps harkening back to his shelter days – is keenly aware of other dogs and animals. No, I don’t mean the next-door neighbor’s dog, I mean the sound from dogs on TV, radio or the internet. A dog food commercial can have Rocky ever alert, waiting for some cartoon dog to speak his language. Even an old movie like the The Thin Man, can have Rocky communicating to the past, conversing with Asta, a dog from those black-and-white 1940s films.
But it’s the HBO original series Game of Thrones where Rocky becomes most active – and interactive. The direwolves on the fantasy series are an unusually large and intelligent species of wolf who often protect their human owners with whom they seem to have a psychic connection.
Rocky is entranced when the direwolves appear (see photo). Maybe he wants to be a direwolf when he grows up. Who knows? Whoever does the sound design deserves two dewclaws up because he or she has expanded the audience beyond human eyeballs. It’s the call of the wild via TV.
The show’s sound designer grabs Rocky’s attention in other ways, too. The dragons’ roar sends him close to cuddle until their scenes are over and the sound dies down. I don’t think Rocky ever encountered dragons in his previous life in Johnson County, but he certainly doesn’t want to take one on, even courtesy of cable TV.
But when the dragons start flapping their wings and screeching, he’ll at least hang around listening for scenes with his hero direwolves. Not so during the episode that aired Aug. 20, Beyond the Wall.
In that episode, the sound designers pushed all of Rocky’s buttons. The zombie snow bear – I know, I know, this sounds more ludicrous the more I write about it – and its unearthly, guttural roar from the land of the dead sent Rocky rocketing off the couch, sprinting down the hall and under the nightstand in the dark corner of the bedroom. Even a dog who thought he was the toughest of the tough at the shelter doesn’t want to mess with a zombie snow bear.
Interactive, lifelike television? You don’t need a great sound system, a high-end media room or the latest plasma ultra-high-def television screen. You need the right dog.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.