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Jars of water and dogs

The reasoning behind these dog scarecrows

Advocates claim that reflection and refraction of sunlight spook a pooch.
  • Advocates claim that reflection and refraction of sunlight spook a pooch.
  • Image by Rick Geary

My wife and I have noticed that several houses in our neighborhood have two or three jars of water on their front lawns. The jars are sealed with clear, colorless water in them. They aren't brewing sun tea, so what gives? This is not a new phenomenon, as we noticed similar goings-on in another neighborhood older and funkier than the one we’re living in now. We suspect a scheme to energize drinking water or to focus astral vortices but thought you might have a better clue. — Bob and Roz Haselbeck, Mira Mesa

Since the mystery seems to follow you from place to place, let me ask you a question. Do the Haselbecks own a dog? If so, is Fido often rampant in the neighborhood, fouling the landscape? The water-filled bottles are the canine equivalent of scarecrows, placed there by homeowners to keep dogs from using their lawns as a toilet. The legend of the lawn bottles probably belongs in the vast dumpster of urban legends, except there is a slim chance they might be temporarily effective. At any rate, enough people are willing to vouch for them to have kept the phenomenon alive from coast to coast for at least the last 30 or 40 years. No one seems to know where the idea originated.

Advocates of lawn bottles claim that reflection and refraction of sunlight through the clear-glass, water-filled bottles (often with added aluminum foil strips) somehow spook a pooch into bypassing the fortified yard in favor of one less menacing. Dog-behavior experts say that if the bottles work at all (and no one’s actually studied them scientifically) it’s because most dogs, like people and other animals, tend to be wary of new and peculiar situations. A familiar bathroom that suddenly sprouts big shiny things apparently qualifies as “new and peculiar.” But if the bottles are left in the same places day after day, eventually the neighborhood dogs will get used to them and come to regard them as just another visual marker in the familiar, friendly lawnscape. At this point, the bottles probably lose whatever effectiveness they had when they first appeared. It’s not too unusual to see a bottle-studded lawn that also includes a big, fresh dog dump. And of course the bottles are useless after sunset (unless they’re placed near a source of bright artificial light), so night-roaming dogs are free to decorate on your yard unimpeded.

Using the “novelty” theory, perhaps any new and peculiar things scattered around your yard — living room furniture, old hub caps, your in-laws — might fend off dogs for a while. But the whole theory could hinge on the personality of the pooch habitually fouling your acreage. A bold, curious dog won’t be stopped by much except, perhaps, a thoughtful, responsible owner.

Dear Matthew Alice: Why do you have two first names? — Vic, Cab *77, on the road

Guess I’m just twice as lucky as you are, Vic.

Dear Matthew Alice, How come your name is not listed among the list of writers? Did they forget you or are you somebody else? — Jack, San Diego

I used to be Duncan Shepherd. But after an aura realignment and a new pair of orthopedic shoes, I’m now the entire staff of the classifieds section. Actually, as long as my paycheck doesn’t bounce, I don’t care who I am.

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