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.
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.