When we first fostered Lobo, he was a very barky dog. It was the main reason he was having trouble finding a forever home. He would tilt his head, look you right in the eye, and bark loudly at you. It almost seemed aggressive, except it was often accompanied by a wagging tail. Lobo has a long, thick, curly tail and each wag is a noticeable swish. At 75 pounds, he is the biggest dog I’ve every lived with. His bark was a bit intimidating.
I remember sitting down to do some work at my computer and Lobo came up to me and barked and barked and barked, pawing at me with his big, lion-like paws. I thought to myself, I’ll never get any work done. This won’t do. He doesn’t like me working at my computer. I emailed the rescue group and asked about it. Patience, they wisely counseled, patience; this is an adjustment period – give it time.
The rescue group was, of course, so right. All the barks sound the same, but the situations vary. Slowly we figured them out, one by one. If you ever saw the movie about Helen Keller, The Miracle Worker, it made me think of when Helen understood the word for “water” for the first time – light breaking through the darkness, sound through silence. Each discovery with Lobo was a eureka moment, when the light bulb went on in our brains, and Lobo wagged happily because we had patiently learned another few words of his rather loud language.
It seems that one bark means, I need water. And another very similar bark means, I need to go outside and do business. And another means, it’s time for food. And another means, it’s time for bed. And yet another means, I need love and pets. A few barks were as yet undefined.
When a dog first comes to your home, he has no idea what the routine is – will you feed me on a regular basis? Will I have regular bathroom breaks or walks? Once we established a familiar routine with Lobo, we generally anticipated his wants and he had very little need to bark for our attention. We’ve learned that when Lobo does bark, it’s usually for a darn good reason. One time he barked because I’d turned on the oven and forgotten I had left a pan in there which had begun to smoke – thanks, Lobo, you’re a life saver!
The barking incidents went from 100% mystery, down to about 10%. And there it remains. A dog deserves some air of mystery! The small percentage of undefined barking incidents are easily diffused by distractions like hugs. Barking is after all, his language, and we have no desire to silence his speech entirely – just keep it to reasonable intervals, and decibels.
We have since adopted Lobo. His favorite spot to relax is lying under my desk while I work at my computer! We’ve come a long way since those initial barky bark moments. The beautiful thing is we are closer now, Lobo and his people, for having taken the time to get to know each other.
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