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Bluff The Listener

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We're playing this week with Roy Blount, Jr., Negin Farsad and Adam Burke. And here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill. Right now...


SAGAL: ...It's time for the WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play our game on the air.

Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

KYLE SHADIX: Hi. I'm Kyle Shadix from White Plains, N.Y.

SAGAL: Hey, Kyle. How are things in White Plains?

SHADIX: Great.

SAGAL: That's in Westchester, right?

SHADIX: Westchester - 33 miles from the city.

SAGAL: You work in the city, so that's why you've measured it?


SHADIX: No, I just left the city. I actually moved to White Plains recently.

SAGAL: That's great. Do you like the lawns and the houses and the trees and the growing sense of unease and angst and - I'm sorry. I'm getting into my own childhood. Never mind.


SAGAL: Well, welcome to the show, Kyle. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what's Kyle's topic?

KURTIS: Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?

SAGAL: They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently, they are full of crap.


SAGAL: We heard a story this week about dogs learning an amazing new trick. Each of our panelists are going to tell you about a new canine skill. Pick the one who's telling the truth, you'll win our prize, the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. You ready to play?

SHADIX: I'm ready.

SAGAL: All right. First, let's hear from Adam Burke.

ADAM BURKE: Man's best friend, a euphemism for dogs that's antiquated in both its androcentrism and the notion that these days, humanity's closest companion is anything other than a 7-inch rectangle of glass and plastic that's probably selling your conversations to the Russians.


BURKE: But Willard Mackenzie (ph), an ex-military dog trainer from Toronto, Ontario, wants to change that. I notice that my two teenage sons are always glued to their smartphones, he explained, neglecting not only my husband and me but the pets. So Mackenzie enlisted the family Labrador, Poncho (ph), to rectify the situation. It took about three weeks to teach her, but basically, if either of my kids is on their device for more than 15 minutes, Poncho will leap up, grab it out of their hands and hide it someplace.


BURKE: Once Mackenzie's friends got wind of Poncho's anti-device antics, they begged him to teach their dogs the trick. Eventually, demand was so high, Mackenzie made a business of it. People think that size might be a factor, he explained, but I've seen a Jack Russell snag a Samsung from a sophomore at 20 paces.


BURKE: While some dogs have been trained to go so far as to bury phones in the yard after repeat infractions, Mackenzie notes that there are limits to their policing abilities. I tried to get Poncho to bite my ankle if I shop online after a couple of glasses of wine...


BURKE: ...He said, but she likes me too much.


SAGAL: Dogs trained to knock your damn phones out of your hands so you can pay attention to them. Next up, your story of an old dog with new tricks comes from Negin Farsad.

NEGIN FARSAD: New York is known for its fast pace, skyscrapers and the faint smell of urine. It's a city where you can find a person from every country speaking every language. And now you can even find Yiddish language lessons for your dog. That's right. Central Park is home to a regular program where dogs can learn Yiddish. It can get really tedious saying sit and stay in, like, boring, old English. Oy vey. It's time to get your dog to put his tuchus (ph) down in another language. Trainer Miguel Rodriguez, one of your typical Latino goy (ph) who teaches Yiddish...


FARSAD: ...Specifically to dogs, says, with Yiddish, I find that the words are pretty sharp, so dogs really get the tones of the words very well. The words really are sharp. Like, when you say to your dog, hey, what you're doing is verkakte (ph), they immediately realize what schlemiels they've been...


FARSAD: ...And turn their shnozzles (ph) down in quiet obedience. But sometimes, you tell a dog to sit, and instead of sitting, the dog says, sit? Why would I sit? I'm happy to stand.


SAGAL: A class to teach your dog Yiddish. Your last story of dog training in the modern world comes from Roy Blount.

ROY BLOUNT JR: I have thrown balls for dogs since I was a boy, says Jarvis Donoghue (ph) of the Oklahoma Center for Energy Innovation. And, my lord, those dogs generate energy - clean energy, happy energy. Now Donoghue is all about harnessing that energy. His system involves an electronically simulated ball-tossing boy and a generator belt worn by the dog. A poodle and a border collie, frankly, weren't taken in by the simulated ball, but an eager participant named Bo Bobby (ph) has proved that a 2-year-old yellow Lab over five solid hours can recharge 24 run-down laptops.


BLOUNT JR: You just have to slip in a real ball at the end, says Donoghue. You don't want to break Bo Bobby's heart.


SAGAL: All right. Dogs are doing something that dogs have not done before. Is it, from Adam Burke, are they being trained to knock your phone out of your hand so you can pay attention to the world; from Negin Farsad, are they being taught Yiddish in New York City; or, from Roy Blount, Jr., are they being taught to generate electricity by running after an electronic ball?

SHADIX: I'll have to go with Negin with the Yiddish language.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Negin with the dogs speaking Yiddish.


SAGAL: All right. Well, to bring you the correct answer, we spoke to someone who's actually involved in this new kind of dog training.

ANN TOBACK: We invite people to come to Central Park to teach their hunts (ph) commands in Yiddish.


SAGAL: That was Ann Toback, the executive director of the Workmen's Circle, the largest Yiddish training program in the world, which is teaching dogs Yiddish. Congratulations, Kyle. You got it right.


SAGAL: We should say, by the way, that you're not teaching the dogs to speak Yiddish. You're teaching the dogs to understand Yiddish.

BURKE: I have a question.


BURKE: Does a Yiddish dog play kvetch?


SAGAL: That's a good question. Congratulations. You were right. You've earned a point for Negin. And you have won our prize, the voice of anyone you may choose in your voicemail. Congratulations.


SHADIX: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you so much for playing. Take care.


ARON BURTON: (Singing) No more doggin', fooling around with you. No more doggin', fooling around with you. Going to let you out, baby. That's what I'll have to do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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