Hank Wiesner

Hank Wiesner

Years ago, I started taking my dog, Rocky, out early in the morning Monday through Friday to give us both a little exercise.

I started this after I noticed him getting, well, “poochy” around the middle.

And besides, the first 6 a.m. of each day is often the better of the two.

Ol’ Rocky’s gone on to the Big Doghouse in the Sky, but I continue the tradition with our current dog, Colonel, and with whatever step-dogs show up that morning. Step-dogs, of course, are hounds that live elsewhere but get their mail at your place.

These sometimes-predawn jaunts also let him, or them, get the early-morning edition of his, or their, newspaper.

To humans, it may be just two miles of hilly terrain my leather personnel carriers are carrying me over at a walk or a run. To my “potnah,” however, that terrain is his newspaper. It contains news of what’s going on in the area.

A dog inputs a lot of information through its nose. Colonel sniffs the air for chemical signatures of other animals, trusting identification by smell more than by sight.

Those smells let him know who’s in the neighborhood. When he sniffs bushes or dung piles, he learns who was there before.

Like any good newspaper, his is full of local stories: Who’s claiming this turf, the identity and status of strangers, who’s in heat, what old friends have passed this way, and perhaps a horror story: a pile of panic-dung produced by something which was badly scared by something else.

It’s a scent symphony of melody and harmony, and Colonel listens to a dozen songs at once during a pre-dawn concert and tries to sort them all out.

To you and me, it might be just a pile of dung, but to dogs that pile is major media – important news. It might be a page one story: Strange odors jangle an alarm in any animal’s brain. A strange odor can mean an animal not yet met, a creature whose friend or danger potential hasn’t been evaluated through experience.

Colonel classifies sights and sounds and smells by going down some genetically programmed checklist in his brain.

To a dog, each dung pile or tree or fire hydrant or bush along the Information Superhighway is sort of an electronic bulletin board. One animal leaves a message, and another checks that board and leaves his own note.

Instead of e-mail, it’s p-mail.

In Colonel’s world, if he wants to leave a message, he doesn’t tap a keyboard, he just lifts his leg.

And now, I guess you’ve figured out what p-mail is...

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