Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Dog sign’s bite
is worse than bark

THERE are two types of homeowners in the world: those who post "Beware of Dog" signs and those who don't.

I was walking through my Kaneohe neighborhood recently and was surprised at the number and variety of signs warning of the presence of dogs.

An informal analysis of houses that post warnings is that the animal can rarely be seen from the sidewalk. Or, if the dog is around, he's usually passed out on the front stoop, looking anything but dangerous.

The worst houses are the ones where no warning sign is posted, yet, as you walk by just inches from a chain-link fence, a large dog suddenly lurches out of the bushes, slams against the fence barking and baring his teeth like a creature from hell.

When you've got a dog like that, you don't need to advertise him. He'll get the word out on his own.

Some houses post dog warning signs even though they don't have a dog. This is a tricky form of protection, because most people bent on entering your property for mischief aren't going to risk it.

"Beware of Dog" signs aren't very friendly. They are meant to scare. But how did "beware" become the word of choice? What's wrong with "Be Circumspect" or "Take Heed" or "Hearken!" Those would probably have the same effect.

I saw one that said: "Beware of Dog. Will Bite."

That's to the point. That means negotiation is out of the question with this dog. He's not going to shake your hand, roll over or beg. He's skipping the preliminaries. He's going right for the main show. He's gonna bite. Period.

OTHER signs include a drawing of a fierce dog, just in case you don't understand the text. It's kind of dicey to use a picture of a big fierce dog if you've only got a couple of Chihuahuas on hand.

But why do sign makers make warning signs only for dogs? All kinds of animals could scare off intruders.

How about, "Beware of Cat. Will Urinate."

Or, "Premises Patrolled By Rabid Hamsters. Watch Your Step."

Or, "Beware of Fish. Knows Attorney."

When you are trying to scare people away from your property, you can't overplay your hand. You can't post a "Beware of Tiger" sign because people will know you're bluffing and that you have something valuable in the garage.

If you really want to scare people, why mess with dogs anyway? A prominent "Beware of Ebola Virus" sign would keep the Watch Tower distributors away. A "Caution: Federal Hazardous Waste Superfund Reclamation Site" sign would put off most would-be burglars.

A couple of those nuclear radiation signs posted on your fence would be even better. You could combine those with the rabid-dog picture sign so that people think you have a nuclear-radiated dog.

Sometimes it's better to let people's imagination do the work. Put a sign out that simply says "beware" and trespassers will fill in the blank with whatever scares them most. They might think you have a Mafia hitman in your Sears storage shed. Or, that all the windows and doors are rigged with loaded shotguns. If you're a burglar and you have a choice of breaking into a house that has a sinister sign that says only "beware" and another that has a plastic pink flamingo on the lawn, which one are you going to pick? You're going to go with the flamingo, as long as it isn't ticking.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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