Today's science question is: Who is smarter, dogs or trees?

This question is on our minds here at the Research Institute for Looking Out the Window When We Should Be Writing a Column because of the behavior of our staff dogs. We have two dogs on the staff:


* Earnest, our large main dog, who is powered by an 800-horsepower motor controlled by a tiny computer microchip originally designed for use in a Whack-a-Mole game.

* Zippy, our emergency backup dog, who is basically a small, dim-witted toupee with legs.


Both of these dogs perform a number of routine duties here at the institute. Their most important duty, of course, is barking. They use the energy-conserving Two-Dog Alternating Bark Procedure: a deep BARK from Earnest, followed immediately by a high, irritating yip! from Zippy, followed immediately by another BARK, and so on BARK yip! BARK yip! They implement this procedure whenever their keen senses detect that one of the following Danger Red Alert situations has occurred:

1. Somebody is at the door.

2. Nobody is at the door.

3. Another dog -- any dog, anywhere in the universe -- is barking.

4. None of the above.

Zippy performs two other main duties:

1. Getting sick on lizards. Here in South Florida we have cute little lizards all over the place. You often see them halfway up the wall, holding very still, as if thinking: "How the hell did I get up here?"

Zippy spends a large portion of his day relentlessly hunting these lizards down, swallowing them, then barfing them back up again in pieces. Here at the institute we've been trying to explain this behavior, and we now believe that it dates back many eons to when giant lizards roamed the Earth, lumbering through the jungle on huge legs, shaking the ground and making so much noise that they failed to hear the high-pitched yip! from way down on the ground, where Zippy's prehistoric ancestor, the small but fierce Saber-Toothed Toupee, was warning them that they were in his territory. And so the lizards kept coming until yip! splat Zippy's ancestor was converted into a saber-toothed pizza. Millions of years later, Zippy is still ticked off about this.


2. Trying to get killed. Next door, separated from us by a tall wooden fence, is a property with three big German shepherd dogs, all of whom look as though they should be named Bart. There is a small crack under the fence, and every day Zippy goes to the crack and barks vicious insults at the Barts, causing them to become furious and take turns thrusting their snouts as far as they can through the crack in an effort to get Zippy.

Zippy has no idea how large these dogs are; all he can see is a snout, which is about his size. He is firmly convinced that he can kick the snout's butt, if it would only come out and fight like a man. Every day he gets more insulting, barking remarks about the Barts' mother, driving them into an insane frenzy of rage. We're getting so sick of the noise that we're thinking about throwing Zippy over the fence to see how tough he is when confronted with more than just the nasal sector of an opposing dog.

Earnest ignores the lizards and the Barts. Earnest's entire existence is focused on one goal: getting a squirrel. We have a large battalion of squirrels here at the institute, scampering from tree to tree, and Earnest spends hours racing around beneath them, barking the enticing message that they should please come down so she can eat them. The squirrels never do this, but sometimes they scamper along the top of the fence, which forms a sort of Rapid Transit Squirrel Monorail.

The fence is high enough so that Earnest can't reach the top, but whenever an Express Squirrel comes scampering along, Earnest races alongside, barking furiously, gaining speed, sprinting harder and harder, barking louder, becoming a blur now, faster and faster until bonk she runs headfirst at approximately 20 miles per hour into a tree that has been located in the same spot for 30 years. We personally have watched Earnest hit this tree three times, although that is probably only a small fraction of the actual total.

These impacts have caused no discernible damage to Earnest. We think that automobile manufacturers should stop messing around with safety gimmicks such as air bags, and start making car bumpers out of the material Earnest's head is made from. Whatever it is, it's definitely not brain tissue, because Earnest has yet to make even the slightest effort to avoid the tree.

The tree, on the other hand, is definitely moving away from the fence.