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Monthly Archives: January 2013

To Bark Or Not To Bark

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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.

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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.

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The loved ones

The Social Butterfly

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Butterfly at Grandma’s colorful feet

 

            When Butterfly first came home from the shelter she didn’t make eye contact with me or Mom, and I was afraid she wouldn’t be able to bond with us. They told us not to expect too much from her after spending her whole eight years in a puppy mill. She was afraid of being picked up or petted, but she licked my hand to say hello, so we started there.

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Butterfly’s tongue

She was hyper vigilant even in sleep, curling up in a ball, waking at any noise. The first time she was able to sleep on her side, with her legs stretched out and her belly exposed, I knew what a triumph that was. A few weeks later, she started to do a little move where she twisted her head to expose her neck and chest for scratching. And then, just once, she rolled entirely onto her back.

But she has been a social butterfly with other dogs from the very beginning, especially in contrast to Cricket. Butterfly will walk up to any dog, big or small, yappy or shy. She doesn’t let Cricket’s fear or standoffishness deter her. The other day we took the girls out for a long walk around the neighborhood. We went to the left instead of the right this time and met a male dachshund and his human mother. Cricket kept her distance, because she usually does. But Butterfly was drawn straight to him. She sniffed his nose. Then she sniffed his butt. He peed obsessively against the telephone pole on his lawn.

Butterfly clearly liked him, but whenever he tried to sniff her butt, she hopped away like a good southern belle, exclaiming, “well, I never…” But she didn’t want to leave. When we finally convinced Butterfly to leave, she was in a great mood. Her hips twitched from side to side, and her nose and tail were up in the air.

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The girls get all tangled with their friend Bella

            Cricket is not a social butterfly. When we’re outside and strangers walk by, Cricket automatically barks her head off. She needs to tell them that this is her neighborhood, her street, her sidewalk, and they have no business near by. Butterfly just stands there and studies them. She isn’t upset by Cricket’s barking. She almost doesn’t seem to notice it. She just seems curious, and like a scientist, she is taking time to patiently examine the evidence.

But in the house, Butterfly barks. She especially likes to bark at the doggy in the mirror. She’ll be walking around in my room, surveying the territory, and then look to her left and see another little white dog. The mirror on the closet is full length so she can see herself down to the toes, and she barks and hops and gets into play pose as if she really believes that another dog has come into the room to challenge her.

Butterfly’s biggest challenge is to teach Cricket how to be her friend. It is an uphill battle, with a lot of grumbling and suspicion and hiding under beds and hoarding treats. But right now, Butterfly is napping only inches away from Cricket on the bed. They are getting closer every day, whether Cricket likes it or not.

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Blurry but happy. At least Butterfly is.

The Reluctant Mentor

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Cricket is exhausted by her new job

Cricket is a reluctant mentor. She resents the way Butterfly follows her around. She hides treats she doesn’t even like, because she doesn’t want Butterfly to have them.

But, Butterfly thinks Cricket is her leader. When Cricket barks, Butterfly barks, or whimpers, or looks to Cricket for answers to the questions of the universe. When Cricket pees, Butterfly pees. If Cricket stops to sniff a bush, Butterfly stops, sniffs, and thinks, this is what I am supposed to do.

Cricket’s most important job has been to teach Butterfly to poop and pee outdoors. Butterfly is eight years old and she’s not used to having to hold it in and wait to be taken outside. She’s not used to thinking of poop as something that shouldn’t be left in the house. And Cricket is teaching her otherwise. I’d like to think that Cricket is pooping more often each day as a generous form of inspiration for Butterfly, to teach her the joys of pooping outdoors. But it could also be because she is an emotional eater and has been eating more since Butterfly came home.

Cricket is an adventurer and Butterfly is learning from that. She’s learning how to run and play and go further afield. She’s learning that long walks and sending pee mail messages and sniffing new places is fun, and safe.

She’s learning that you can get away with standing your ground and being stubborn sometimes and no one will hit you. They may just pull on your leash and make grumbly noises, but that won’t kill them, or you.

The first few days, maybe even more than a week, that Butterfly was home, she was uninterested in toys. We gave her two toys from Cricket’s box, carefully choosing ones she’d never shown interest in, but Butterfly ignored them. And then she found Ducky on the floor next to my bed and she fell in love. The duck quacks when you squeeze it and has been one of Cricket’s favorites since she was a puppy, with surgery scars to prove it. Now Butterfly tries to bring Ducky with her whenever she goes out for a walk (the answer is no). She licks him the way she would lick one of her puppies and that seems to calm her. But Cricket is not pleased.

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Butterfly loves ducky

Butterfly tries to forget quickly after each time Cricket snarls at her, or blocks her way up the stairs. She chooses to forgive Cricket over and over.

There are some things Butterfly has not picked up yet. She’s not in love with the variety of foods Cricket enjoys. She doesn’t see the point of cheese, or red bell peppers, or morning pancakes with maple syrup. She hasn’t learned how to bark menacingly at strangers, or hide under the bed in a huff. She hasn’t learned how to revel in a warm lap and really relax, yet.

Butterfly has tried running after sticks and chewing on them the way Cricket does out on the lawn in the mornings, but sticks are an acquired taste.

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Don’t take my stick!

            Just once, Butterfly tried to pee like Cricket, with her right leg lifted an inexplicable inch off the ground. But she found that position uncomfortable and ineffective. I’m not sure why Cricket does it, being a girl and all.

After all of that mentoring, Cricket has some aggression to get out of her system and she has taken to bringing me her rope toy when it gets to be too much and she needs to play tug of war. While Cricket tugs and jumps and growls and is suspended in midair, Butterfly hops around and pants and tries to get in the game. She can’t fit her teeth around the rope, though, and Cricket is grateful for that.

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Cricket is levitating

            Once tug is over, they’re both exhausted and ready for a nap. Cricket has taught Butterfly all about napping. So once Cricket is asleep, Butterfly will stretch out on the floor, legs in front of her like a fallen cow. Just like Cricket.

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Fallen Cow pose

How My Dogs Watch TV

Butterfly at the computer

Butterfly at the computer

 

 

After twenty years of loyal service to the family, my small color TV finally collapsed a few years ago and we were forced to update. Cricket had been indifferent to the TV for the most part, until the flat screen arrived. Suddenly, she noticed strangers in her house. She stood in front of the TV and barked at Hugh Grant and tried to push at him through the screen. She searched behind the TV to see where the invader had come from.

Cricket prefers to watch Grandma

Cricket prefers to watch Grandma

Cricket is mostly indifferent to the TV now. But she does notice when the TV goes off, because that’s an important signal that something in her environment is going to change. Maybe her people are going to bed and she has to choose which room to visit, or maybe she’s going out for a walk, or, worst option, maybe her people are leaving the house without her.

The television is a big part of my life. I use it for background noise while I’m typing or cooking. I use it for company when I’m lonely. I use it for mood alteration when I get depressed. I had to make a point of not keeping a TV in my bedroom, because I’d never get to sleep.

When Butterfly first came home from the shelter, she was mesmerized by the TV. She was barely making eye contact with her people yet, but wherever she was in the living room, her eyes and ears were focused on that TV. I picked her up on my lap to watch a video on the computer of another Lhasa Apso, just like her, growling about something. She was fascinated. She couldn’t look away from the screen. Cricket could have cared less. She did the doggy equivalent of rolling her eyes, but Butterfly was riveted.

Side view of Butterfly - riveted

Side view of Butterfly – riveted

 

Cricket has just finished rolling her eyes

Cricket has just finished rolling her eyes

 

Butterfly was sleeping when the puppies came on the TV. I was watching a show called “Too Cute” on Animal Planet, where they follow puppies and kittens from birth to adoption. And the puppies started to squeak. Butterfly stood up, looked around in confusion and then walked over to the staircase behind the TV. She looked up, as if the puppies were up in the attic and she needed to go to them.

I’ve often thought I should leave the TV on for the dogs when I go out, in case they get lonely or bored. But Cricket tends to wait for us on the stairs, avoiding the living room entirely. Butterfly might watch the TV, but then I worry about what will be on. Even if there’s something cute and fluffy on when I leave the house, I might come back to crocodiles terrorizing puppies in a back yard. And I don’t think Butterfly would survive that.