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To Bark Or Not To Bark


The barker

The side effects of barking: dry mouth, people inexplicably avoid you, throat pain, strong abs.

Cricket barks at everyone. She barks at children who pass by. She barks the mailman to death. She barks at strangers walking up the street. I can’t teach her to be polite and reserve judgment. I can’t teach her that she’s pushing people away from me with her behavior. Cricket even barks at the wind.

Cricket stands at Grandma’s bedroom window, with three of her feet on the pillow and one on Grandma’s head, and barks at noises outside that seem threatening. Like children at play.

I toy with the idea of getting her a six shooter and a sheriff’s star to wear on her collar.

I wonder if Butterfly is sitting there in the hall listening to Cricket bark, and asking herself, “To bark or not to bark?” I’m afraid she will decide to emulate Cricket and bark more and more over time. But I hope she won’t. I hope she will continue to walk up into Cricket’s face and ask her, why are you barking now?

When Butterfly first came home, she was silent. I’d never met a non-barking dog in person and I wondered if she would be my first. But the second night she was home, she was in the kitchen alone, with a pet gate separating her from her new family, and she let out one deep bark, like a basso profundo coming from this little body, to let us know she did not like being alone.

She did it again the next day when Cricket was getting groomed in the bathtub. She was clearly afraid that Cricket was being tortured.

And now she lets out a few barks every day. It’s a more restrained statement than Cricket’s high pitched rush of verbiage. But it’s insistent and purposeful and she expects to be answered promptly. She barks at me in the morning, when she thinks I’m sleeping too late. She walks over to my head and stares at me, and then she barks.


The student barker

My dream is that having Butterfly around will make Cricket feel more secure and she won’t need to be the security guard anymore. And the barking will calm down.

The other day, we were out walking and Cricket barked at a stranger who dared to walk down the sidewalk. Butterfly walked in front of Cricket to block her view of the man, and offered her tushy as an interesting sniffing opportunity. And Cricket stopped barking.

Cricket isn’t the only barker in our neighborhood. We have a barking chorus that gets set off at certain times. When one dog starts, others inevitably pick up the song. It’s call and response, or in the case of the basset hound, howl and response. If one dog notices someone passing by who needs to be remarked upon, the chorus sends the message to everyone along the street who needs to be warned.

My bedroom is in the attic and my windows collect the noise from the neighborhood as if everything is happening about an inch away from me, so the barkatorium is especially pronounced for me.

Maybe the point of the barking chorus is to teach me that barking, even in excess, is normal. It’s not just Cricket who barks like this. Dogs want to be understood as much as people do. They want to communicate with each other and feel connected to each other and to us.

The fact is, when we walk around the neighborhood I rely on the dogs to bark to let me know they are there. They make the world less quiet and lonely. They let me know that they see me and that my presence matters to them.

I don’t want Butterfly to bark as much as Cricket does, or with that vehemence, but I’m glad she knows how to bark and feels safe letting herself be heard. I want her to feel like she has the right to bark, and I want her to know that the old cliché about children, that they should be seen and not heard, is crap. Children and dogs need to bark in order to be seen and heard by the people who love them.


The loved ones

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

37 responses »

  1. Kaci barks at everything. I’ve given up rushing over to see what’s she’s barking about. It’s like the boy who cried “wolf”. Hopefully, she’ll outgrow it.

    • Cricket refuses to grow out of it. She’s a stubborn little thing. But she’s also adorable. She’s sleeping under the computer right now, soaking up the energy from all of the cables.

  2. Run A Muck Ranch

    Out of all of ours, we only have 1 incessant barker, and it is only when he is near the horses. 1 barking, not so bad. But 1 barking gets more barking, and if they are all barking at the horses, it esclatates into something more. We had to, shamelessly, break down and get a bark collar for him. He only wears it when he is outside. Actually, just putting it on does the job at this point…not even sure if the battery is still good… All that being said, he can still talk, and when the coyotes are in the yard, he howls with the best of them. Also, if someone comes to the door or on the property, he has something to say, as do the others. My original fear was that the collar would ‘punish’ him for barking at all. Fortunately, only around the horses has he reduced his voice. Perfectly vocal when vocalization is required in all other circumstances.

    • I’m pretty sure that if Cricket couldn’t bark her opinions she would be leaving marks on my arms like hieroglyphics to let me know how she felt about that. She’s not sure with self expression. I keep telling her to start a blog, but she prefers sleeping while I do the work.

  3. I find it endearing when dogs bark, especially small ones, I’m like, “Oh you ferocious beast! You’re scaring me!” It makes them feel important 🙂

  4. Oh what a beautiful singing voice she must have! Loved the story, brought back memories of my sister chasing her two Maltese around the yard trying to stop them from barking at EVERYTHING!

  5. I think Zoe would sometimes run around the yard and bark for sheer exuberance, but neither of my dogs were barkers just to hear themselves bark. If someone came into the yard, they barked.

  6. Maybe you should introduce Cricket and Butterfly to the wicked puns of the comedies. Hamlet is a little bit heavy and may only serve to exacerbate the barking– what would you do if you saw a scruffy, unwashed ghost prowling the neighborhood?

    • Cricket really does like the melodrama of a Hamlet or Macbeth, she gets that look on her face that says “It’s all downhill from here.” Butterfly, on the other hand, could do with a comedy or two. She gets these smiles that look like they’re going to split her face.

  7. When I seen the picture of her barking at the very top, I busted out in laughter. Great pic!!!!

  8. I bark at everyone and everything that dares to go by my house! All the neighborhood dogs bark at me when I walk by with my Mom too. The funny thing is – the dogs who are walking by the barking dog’s house never bark back.

    We just like to say “Hi” to each other I guess! Woof woof to Cricket and Butterfly!


  9. To bark! To bark! Always to bark!

  10. Chancy and Mumsy

    I think some dogs bark more than others. I know of all the dogs we have had some barked very little, some only when strangers were around and others barked at everything that moved, even leaves blowing or the wind. Some I think barked just because they loved to bark. All of our small dogs barked more than the larger ones. Hugs and nose kisses

  11. What a lovely post, Rachel. I too love dogs, but cannot keep one now as we live in a high rise apartment where they are prohibited. You may like to have a peek at my post of October 5, 2012 titled “Travel All-inclusive: Tails of Affection” re. dogs. Jo

  12. cricket and butterfly look like they have bonded so well together. I feel the same way about barking. Poe our family dog barks a lot to the point where it is quite annoying, but Kirby usually just does it if he is unsure of something. I like how butterfly put cricket in his place when you were walking him by putting his bum in front of him!

  13. hello cricket and butterfly its dennis the vizsla dog hay to bark!!! definitly to bark!!! ok bye

  14. Cute pics and my son liked them too!

  15. Great post! I have two that bark constantly-especially the little guy-but my shepherd hardly *speaks* at all-maybe she is content to let the two boys do all the talking-as obnoxious as it can get sometimes-the barking lets me know they are paying attention-particularly at what might be going on in the neighborhood. Jack Henry cries when he sees someone he knows-when he does not know them-he lets out loud and long.

  16. I learned to let the Gang of Six go nuts for about half a minute then I yell”QUIET!” and they shut up. It really really works. Compromise.

  17. Zush was a champ for 8 years- Shingleman had to COAX her to ger her to bark.
    Then I ruined her life and got her baby sister, Kasia, a golden retriever/ chow/collie mix…who is not shy about voicing her opinion. Talk about shoe on the other foot: Kasia and Zush together now in stereo, 12 y/o bark and almost 4 bark….lol…well, at least they agree together!

  18. Butterfly has been having a very barky day today, and she’s doing all of her barking at ME! The girls never seem to bark at the same things, though. As of they figure they don’t need to double up on effort, best to save those vocal chords for later.

  19. Such unusual photos, all very engaging. 🙂


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