Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Hank Dog Bark

When I was very early pregnant (and consumed by worry of miscarriage and birth defects), my doctor told me something insightful: "you always worry about your kids, the worry just changes as they get older." 

Similarly, I was talking with a co-worker who has a 1 year old and he affirmed the same thing.  He said you worry about the developmental stuff first: "shouldn't he be reaching out to objects already;" "shouldn't he be making sounds already;" "should he be doing better with tummy time?"  And then, as the child accomplishes each worry-inducing task, you move on to the next worry.  "Should he be crawling more;" "should he be pulling himself up;" "when is he going to walk?"  And it just keeps going.  And when you're up at night worrying that your kid is way behind on his walking, the worry from months ago that he wasn't reaching out and grasping objects is almost removed from your memory because it's so distant.

Well, the old nickname of a dog as a "practice baby" I think has sort of illustrated the same cycle of worry that we'll have as parents.

First we worried about Hank not liking/being scared of Jonathan.  Then they became pals.  Then Hank started to like me and Jonathan equally (or about equally - he and I are pretty tight).

Next we had a huge potty dilemma.  Hank was going in the house a lot (which caused a lot of stress).  Then we could get him to go outside, but we had to be in the yard with him.  Then we had to be on the deck with him.  Then he would go outside, but only on our prompting (he wouldn't stand at the door to tell us he had to go).  But now, he potties like a normal dog (outside, alerting us when he needs to go, and tinkling on command if necessary [ie, it's raining and we don't want him getting drenched]).

And these things?  While they took some time (and stress!), eventually they've become such a natural, normal part of our day that it's funny to look back and think how Hank hated Jonathan for a few weeks.  Or how annoying it was to have to keep a constant eye on him at night in case he started to pee in the house.

Well, presently, we have an issue with barking.  And it's quite the issue...

Basically, whenever Hank encounters a "stranger" (and I'm using the term lightly - I should say, any time he encounters someone other than us), he barks his head off.  Not just a couple light barks.  Not some heavy barking that eventually lets up.  No.  It's intense, growl-ish barking that can often last the entire length of time we're around the other person.

We think it's partially a fear response (because usually his big bushy tail is between his legs while he barks).  And we think it's partially a protective thing of us (because when we were last at the vet, for example, they had to take him back and do a minor procedure, and the techs said he was sweet as could be [once we were gone]).  We also don't think he would ever bite someone (thus far he hasn't, and it just doesn't really seem like his m.o.).

But, regardless of not biting, it's incredibly annoying!  Any time we have someone to our house, we have to explain that the dog will freak out and it's best to just ignore him & let him decide if he wants to warm up to you.  It's also annoying in instances at the vet or the groomer or anywhere a stranger needs to interact with the dog because I'm sure they think he's an out-of-control animal (and often have to muzzle him).

The Catch 22 of it, though, is that there are instances when it's not annoying.  When I'm walking him at night and a questionable person is also walking on the street?  Not annoying.  When we have repairmen to our house?  Not annoying (because, you know, they could be "scoping the joint" thinking about coming back).  If someone were to break into our house?  I'd rather have the barking dog than the golden retriever who'd go up and start licking the burglar, you know?

(There are times, too, when it's outright hysterical.  I was walking him one day and we encountered a man, probably in his 30s, who was a dead ringer for Cam on Modern Family [but seemed 100x nerdier].  He saw the dog and sort of crouched down, clapped his hands and was like, "come here, boy" clearly assuming Hank would just run to him to be petted.  Only "come here, boy" got about as far as "come here, b-" before Hank yanked forward on his lease, took a firm stance, and started ferociously growl-barking at the guy.  The man then stood up looking sort of emotional wounded from the experience and walked away.)

So what we need is some kind of command like "friend" that we can say in those instances when we're actually around friends.  Because of the fear aspect, though (the tail between the legs), we don't know how to get him to listen to a command when he's all fired up with fear.

Has anyone had any experience with this?  What can you do with a barker?

1 comment:

LB said...

I'm glad "scoping the joint" hasn't left your vocabulary.