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Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2001 / 3 Teves, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

This Little Dog Bytes -- ADMIT it. You are a total failure as a parent.

A grownup who, despite many tense minutes of grunting, squinting, praying, cursing, banging and maybe even a glance at the instruction book, cannot make your child's high-tech dog do anything but bark.

In fact, you cannot make it stop barking.

Happy holidays from Satan, your proud purveyor of walking, talking microchip canines.

Who else would come up with such a diabolical toy? A dog that looks like it's going to be more fun than Lassie and R2D2 rolled into one, but ends up bankrupting the parents even while propelling the kids into their pillows, crying their TV-soaked hearts out, not because the dog is an impossibly temperamental piece of electronic engineering, but because mommy/daddy/formerly beloved relative said the thing was going to beg and wag its tail, and instead it's lying on the floor, jerking sporadically, looking and sounding like Keith Richards on acid-laced Milk Bones.

Or at least like he scored some bad kibble.

And that's provided you figured out how to get batteries into the toy at all.

In truth, the really infuriating thing about these programmable dogs is not that none of us has figured out how to make them obey. It's that we suspect everyone else has.

"Oooh, don't ask me!" said my friend Carol when indeed I asked her, "How's your electronic pooch?"

"It's under the bed," she finally confessed. "Every once in a while the kids take it out and try to make it walk."

Does this work?


Why not?

"Because we're morons."

That was a fun conversation. And I had several more just like it as I discussed the pricey pooches with others, including a salesclerk at Toys "R" Us. He confided that most folks seem to have wised up since last year's robot dog craze, and now no one is going anywhere near Boomer, the $65.99 puppy with infrared technology. Nor are they flocking to Boomer's friend Flash, the high-tech turtle.

Now there's a riveting toy.

My friend Dale, who went to Harvard and Yale and is a big-shot lawyer, usually has all the answers. But not when the question involves her son's robot dog.

"Do we get rid of it, since we can't make it work?" she spends hours - possibly billable - wondering. "Or keep it because it's really not broken?"

For now, she has been applying the universal parental compromise: Shove it in the closet.

Those who get up the nerve to actually boot out (not up) their techno dogs enjoy one great reward: no longer having to listen to them. Chris McLemore of Texas still recalls the electronic pet his sister got - and neglected - last Christmas.

"It was dead before we rang in the new year. And the worst part was that it made noises, but she couldn't get the sound to turn off," Chris said. "So we had to listen to the thing slowly die. I actually felt pity for it."

Well, not me. Our family's mechanical mutt had his 15 minutes of almost-fun, and I'm happy to report he is now sleeping with the fishes.

Pretty soon I bet he'll meet some electronic turtles.

JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, New York Daily News