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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Learning the Power of BARK


I've been pondering this topic for some time, and although I have other things to write about, I want to get this out of my head and onto the screen. So here I offer thoughts on my dog learning to use his indoor voice.

We moved into the new house in June, and we've all had things to adjust to. Almost all the way around, it has been a positive experience for every member of our family. For T and me, finally having the space to keep our belongings has been liberating in the extreme! and my commute has reduced to a point where even if I leave after I'm supposed to be at work, I'm only 10 minutes late. We haven't been late to church or choir once so far--all we have to do is get out two minutes before the start time and we're there!

D has not only his own room--which he uses more than he did his old room because it's across from ours instead of way up in the lonely attic--but also room to bounce and make noise in the basement family room without getting totally underfoot. He can also play outside without me having to worry about him getting squashed by a car, and there are so many more kids in the neighborhood his own age than in our old neighborhood!

Chester Kitty became an outdoor cat when he discovered he could yank the corner of the screen door out and walk outside. It took him a month to learn this skill, but now he's down to 1 second to complete the task anew after I shove the thing back together. But the neighborhood is safe enough that at least I'm not really worried about cars. Raccoons, skunks, and wolves, yes... but not cars. He comes in when it gets dark, though. And we don't let him out again despite his pleading.

But in no family member is the change so apparent than in our dog, Ian the EagerBeagle. In our old house, Ian was a tightly-wound, house-wetting, barking, howling monster. He'd sleep calmly on the window seat until another dog walked by--which happened at least 15 times a day in our old, busy neighborhood--whereupon he would jump up, bark, howl, growl, race around, pick up couch cushions in his mouth and shake them thoroughly (that'll teach them cushions!) and remain on guard for minutes at a time until the other dog was gone... and then back on the window seat until the next Evil Puppy dared to walk by... sometimes as little as 5 or 10 minutes later.

Here we still have the barking howling cushion-punishing routine, but it might happen 3 or 4 times a day. In addition, because the deck is separated from the kitchen (where I hang out most of the time) only by a screen door in summer, Ian spent a lot of the summer on his tie-out on the deck, relaxing in the sun. And we have a state park that allows off-leash doggies where Ian can get plenty of exercise.

But the biggest change, a huge blessing for us, is that Ian no longer has accidents in the house. It used to be he'd go weeks or even months at a time without peeing or pooping inside, but then he'd go through a spate of these indiscretions several days in a row. Also, we'd have to shut him into our room at night, because if he left the room and went to the back door without us hearing him, he'd pee or poop if no one came.

What changed, you might ask? I have absolutely no idea why, but in August, when T was going off to work and I was not, so I was sleeping a bit later, Ian would follow T downstairs and often go out for his morning constitutional, but then when T left, Ian would be lonely or need to go out, and rather than come all the way back up those stairs, poor doggie, he would stand at the bottom of the stairs and give one demanding, loud bark that caught the acoustics of our house and wake me out of the soundest sleep imaginable. It was the first time he'd ever barked to be let out--he barked to be let in at the old place, but not to be let out--and so I hopped out of bed and let him out, and praised him tons and tons.

Now, being woken up that way isn't fun. He did it a few times, and it was okay because at least he was peeing outside (and not on the deck, by the way--that's another totally disgusting habit that changed when we moved here), but that bark was loud. So eventually Ian figured out that I wasn't coming down when T did, so he came back to bed, and then if he needed to go, he'd get down from the bed, which usually wakes me up.

A few times he barked at me from right next to the bed, which was kinda shocking, but then he started experimenting with using his indoor voice. Again, I have absolutely no idea why this concept kicked in for him... It wasn't anything I taught him. I guess even he didn't feel comfortable barking at full volume at 2:00am one morning when he wanted to go out (it happens sometimes if he gets leftovers at dinner--can't make it to morning). So he learned the trick of standing right by the side of my bed and giving this little whispery "gruff, gruff" sound, which for some reason wakes me out of a dead sleep but without the shock value of "BARK!"

The other thing he uses it for is getting on the bed. If it's brightly lit in our room, and there's no one in the bed, he can jump up there even though it's a stretch--he slips a bit on the uncarpeted hardwood floor--but in the middle of the night after he's spent the first bit of the night on his dog bed and then wants up with mom and dad, he can't judge the distance properly, especially if I'm sleeping there and the cat is on my feet as is his wont. So Ian gives his "gruff, gruff" sound and silly me, I hop out of bed and pick him up and put him on the bed, and we all go to sleep. I need to get him some stairs, seriously. I can tell the difference between "get in the bed" and "gotta go" because "get in the bed" entails standing at attention waiting to be picked up, whereas "gotta go" includes tail wagging, a pleading expression, and lots of little circles, the doggie equivalent of the peepee dance.

Anyone who says "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" is just dead wrong. Ian's not old--he's only 5--but he's mature and he had his ways. Now he's a different dog and I'm a happier owner.