Virtual Dogsitting


A friend has fielded complaints from a neighbor about her dogs’ barking. The thing is, she leaves her three dogs in the house when she’s at work, and the neighbor who complained to her is, I’m not exaggerating, at least 1,000 feet from her house.

We brainstormed and came up with this: virtual dogsitting. She aimed her laptop’s camera at a place in her living room so that it can take in a view of the one dog who has to be crated (or she very creatively chews things in the house, like books off the shelves and even a picture off the wall!), two of the other dogs’ beds, and a slice of the couch. The two dogs who are loose in the house can leave the living room and go “off-camera,” but if they bark anywhere in the house, the laptop’s microphone can hear them.

I have a big old laptop that is too slow to run more than one task at a time; I use it only as an emergency backup. But it can run Skype! So we set up our computers for Skype sessions. Before she leaves for work, and on days when I’m going to be working at my computer for much of the day (my friend gets home at 2:30 pm), we initiate a Skype video session, so that I can see, and more importantly, HEAR what her dogs are doing all day while she is gone. I turn off the microphone on my end, so my friend’s dogs don’t hear and bark at the sounds coming from my house (or my dogs barking at my mailman!). We didn’t worry about their view of my home office; none of her dogs have ever so much as glanced at the screen.

We also imagined that if her dogs did start barking out of boredom at something, I could possibly call their names or admonish them in some way, and tell them “Good dogs!” when they shushed. However, I haven’t turned on my mic once.

I’ve watched them for a total of five days. And only one of the three dogs (the crated one) has barked that whole time, and on exactly three occasions (twice in one day, once on another) for less than 30 seconds each time. The rest of the time, my view into my friend’s living room looks like an oil painting. The dogs sleep all day long. They stand up, stretch, and change positions every so often. But they don’t even chew the bones my friend has left for them, or get up to get a drink of water!

I do hear my friend’s parakeet squawking from time to time (off camera) – it always makes me jump! — and even the chirping of birds outside the window closest to the desk that her laptop is sitting on. But “barking all day long,” Mr. Grumpy Neighbor? Sorry, it’s not these dogs. I can testify to that.