Perhaps you’ve heard of sheep dog trials. You may have seen them on television. You might have watched in rapt wonder as border collies raced about the glorious countryside, herding sheep into little pens. You might then have turned an eye on your own tiny terrier/chihuahua/shih-tzpoo, lounging on the end of the sofa and chewing on one of your slippers as it decorates the air of your inner-city flat with an occasional fart, and thought to yourself, “My dog could do that. I mean, if he didn’t have to run around a pasture the size of Switzerland and sheep weren’t four times bigger than him, my dog could definitely do that.”
Well now is your dog’s chance! The County Durham College of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fine Art is proud to announce the world’s first Spider Dog Trials. That’s right, your dog now has the chance to show off his skills at chasing, catching, spitting out and again chasing…spiders! And what’s more, he can do it in the comfort of his (your) very own home.
The event is designed to encourage participation by diverse breeds of dogs from a wide range of economic backgrounds. The winner will gain bragging rights as the “World’s Best Spider Dog”, as well as a £10 gift certificate for the Pet and Pony in Durham (England, not North Carolina). All you have to do is film your dog chasing spiders and upload the video to the CDCAAHFA’s website. The winner will be chosen by a panel of researchers drawn from the college’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the departments of Psychology and Aukolothology.
Laugh if you must, but there is a serious side to this competition. The spider dog trials are part of a larger research project run by the three aforementioned faculties. The project aims to test various theories about how changes in human technology and culture cause corresponding changes in the behaviour of animals. And vice versa.
One such theory is that many small breeds of dog, which were originally bred to kill rats in factories and mines, are shifting their behaviour as they enter human homes. In the developed world, at least, there is no longer much need for these dogs to hunt rats. There are, however, plenty of opportunities for them to chase spiders across living room floors.
‘So what?’ you say. ‘Rats scurry across floors. Spiders scurry across floors. Why is anyone surprised that dogs will chase both?’
‘Fair ’nuff,’ the head vet at CDCAAHFA responds. But consider this: time was when folk saw a spider run across the floor, they squished it with a book (hence this song). Nowadays, however, folk whip out their phone and film their dog playing with, barking at or running away from it. In other words, the scientists aren’t really interested in how your dogs are changing. They’re interested in how we are changing. The combination of handy recording devices (our phones), social media and hundreds of millions of house dogs is changing how we react to spiders.
What does it mean? Will spiders shift from being objects of fright and horror to being signs of mirth and levity? Will people raise spiders in their homes as play companions for their pets? Will someone develop tiny little cameras and collars to strap on to spiders and capture videos from the spider point-of-view and automatically upload them to ArachnaTube? Or will this spawn a dark underworld where people breed larger, faster spiders that lead packs of terriers on merry races through the cavernous halls of disused Amazon warehouses (because Amazon will crumble once we all have 3d printers that can cheaply make anything we want) while punters place their bets.
For my part, I’m getting ahead of the game and investing all my savings in a spider breeding programme.
A brief addendum: as I published this post, I discovered this bit of news. Just in time for Halloween!