Recently, our previously quiet little part of German Village has become a kind of barking zone. Some new people have moved into the surrounding apartments with their dogs, and those dogs apparently like to bark.
Not all the time, though — just when I’m leaving the house in the morning and coming home from work at night.
A dog across the street seems to be the barking leader in the barking zone. He stands with front paws on the ledge of the window of his home, barely visible in the shadows next to a curtain, looking outward. From his dim outline and the nature of his bark, he looks to be some kind of hound. When he sees me coming or going he barks and barks until he’s got to be hoarse.
After the pooch across the street starts up, dogs in some of the other places hear him and they typically join in from their homes, blending their more high-pitched yips and yowls and yelps with the leader’s deep-throated woofing. Within seconds, we’ve got a fully developed canine cantata going on.
I’m not sure why I am the target of such furious barking, which doesn’t seem to happen with other random passersby. There’s obviously something about my presence that the dog across the street finds disturbing, or threatening to his alpha dog status. And although I’m curious about how the dog across the street picked me out, the muffled barking doesn’t really bother me. It’s just become part of the greeting when I get home. In fact, it’s kind of like my own little fanfare.
Today we had workers in the house, so this morning I dropped Kasey off at our local dog-sitting service. We arrived right after it opened up at 7 a.m. and were one of the first drop-offs. A friendly young woman greeted Kasey by name, took her by the leash, and marched her to the back area, and I went off to work.
When I came back tonight to pick Kasey up at the end of the day, it was a different story. I could hear the dogs barking while I was still out on the street. It’s obvious the dogs had been riled up by the sound of the doorbell and buzzer that allowed dog owners to enter the locked facility, and they knew that their owners were going to be stopping by to pick them up. With that knowledge, any rational canine would bark their brains out to make sure that their owners knew they were there are ready to leave, right? Why take a chance that you’d be overlooked?
It was loud. In fact, loud really doesn’t begin to capture the force and volume of the noise level in that closed facility. Next to baby cries and fingernails on a chalkboard, dog barks are probably the sound most calculated to get human beings to sit up, pay attention, and then do whatever they can to stop the damned barking. So think of a dog barking vigorously, and then multiply that by a hundred — or perhaps a thousand — to approximate jet engine levels. And even with that massive wall of sound, I could hear Kasey’s distinctive hoarse bark.
I was grateful to get Kasey and get the heck out of there to let my eardrums recover. I commend the nice young women who work there. They must be true dog lovers.
Yesterday afteroon we checked into a hotel in North Adams, Massachusetts, where we’ll be getting our culture fix at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCa). Last night, when we returned after a really fine dinner and let ourselves into our building, we heard a dog begin to bark furiously in one of the other rooms.
The dog’s frantic barking continued as we walked up the stairs to our room, entered it, and closed the door. I could still hear the barking as I sat down to read in our room, and to make matters worse another dog joined in. Given the long history between humans and canines, we’re conditioned to hear dog barks — and once you notice them they are impossible to ignore. You can only hope they stop.
These days more hotels are allowing people to keep dogs in rooms. I am fine with that, so long as the hotels makes sure that the rooms are fully cleaned of dog hair after the visit.
But not all of the responsibility for a successful dog-hotel visit lies with the hotel. To the contrary, most of the responsibility should lie with the guest. If you know your dog is a barker, you simply cannot leave it alone in a hotel room to bark itself into exhaustion at the random movements of other guests while you are out with friends. It’s not fair to the other guests like us, but it’s also not fair to your pet.
If people want to travel with dogs, basic consideration requires that they know their dogs’ barking tendencies and do what is necessary to keep them quiet in a shared setting. If that means staying with them to keep them calm in strange surroundings and missing a night out, so be it. A person who leaves a dog prone to barking in a hotel room, to the loud misfortune of both the dog and other guests, is providing telling information about the kind of person they are — and it’s not positive.
If you’ve ever had a baby in your household, you know that humans are hard-wired to respond to the cries of an infant.
We can get used to tractor-trailers rumbling past our front door, or the 24-hour drone of a factory in the neighborhood, but there is something about the pitch and tone of a crying baby that cuts through all other noises and reaches down and sends an electric bolt to the nervous system. When Richard and Russell were in their cribs, their tiny, initial cries always jolted us instantly awake, no matter how tired we might have been.
Are humans similarly responsive to the barking of dogs? Kasey, unlike Penny, is a big barker. She barks when she wants food, she barks when food is being prepared, and she barks when she sees a stranger walking by or a cat stretching in our yard. Her shrill barks have an impact on my nervous system that is similar to a baby’s cries — they are disturbing and profoundly irritating.
There’s an evolutionary reason why we respond to baby cries, obviously. Human infants are helpless, and if evolution didn’t condition adults to react to their cries they would starve or be carried away by wolves, and the human species would cease to exist.
Could there similarly be an evolutionary reason why humans respond to a barking dog? Have dogs been domesticated for so long that natural selection has preferred humans who awaken when they hear the barking of man’s best friend and thereby can respond to whatever dangers the dog’s animal instincts have perceived?
I’m sticking with that theory, because it will be a lot easier to endure Kasey’s barking sprees if I believe that there is some Darwinism at work.
The surgical procedure involves cutting the dog’s vocal cords. The dog tries to bark, but little sound is produced. Because the vocal cords can reconnect as scar tissue forms, allowing the dog to again produce sound, some owners have their dogs undergo multiple surgeries.
In the story linked above, a dog owner said her dog barked constantly. The surgery was a last resort, undertaken only after other debarking methods didn’t work, and was the only option that would allow her to keep her dog and avoid complaints from neighbors and citations for violation of city noise ordinances. I’m sympathetic to her plight, I suppose, but I’m more sympathetic to the dog.
It’s bad enough that humans have taken animals descended from wolves and, through selective breeding, have produced fou-fou dogs that live in purses or are groomed to look like topiary, but cutting a dog’s vocal cords crosses a line. Some dogs are barkers, others aren’t. Those who bark are trying to communicate something — Kasey, who barks constantly while I am getting her morning food, obviously is saying “Hey buddy, speed it up!” — and it just seems cruel to deprive them of that part of their personality. What would a self-respecting dog feel if her expected bark came out as only an embarrassing squeak? Any surgery, too, involves risk for the dog. It’s one thing for a dog to undergo surgery to deal with a health issue, but quite another for a dog to undergo surgery solely to avoid annoying an owner or a neighbor. What’s next, canine cosmetic surgery?
Neighbors shouldn’t have to suffer through constant dog barking, but any owner with a barking dog who can’t deal with the problem through non-surgical means has two options: move to a place where the dog can bark freely, or find the dog a home in the country, where neighbors aren’t going to complain.