Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra ‘news flashes’!
Sunday February 26th 2017
It’s almost thirty months since Isis came to live with me, and still the only sound to which she demonstrates an unambiguous response is barking. Until quite recently, she used to be terrified when she heard barking, whether or not it was aggressive. She always panicked and almost pulled me over in her desperation to escape; sometimes, that was the end of the walk and she had to be taken home.
Barking still makes her anxious. She would always prefer to move away, but she rarely panics now, it’s easier to soothe her, and she doesn’t automatically appear to want to go home.
Her reaction to barking puzzles me: she doesn’t respond to booming fireworks or to thunder, and certainly not to my voice – or anyone else’s, for that matter – calling her name, however loudly. In fact, she seems totally unaware of human voices. When I clap my hands hard within a few feet of her, I note that her ears sometimes twitch. But that’s all, and I wonder whether she is responding to vibration rather than sound.
Can a dog feel vibrations from another dog’s bark, or a hand clap?
Last year I bought her a very high pitched dog whistle. But however hard or however close to her I blew it, there was no response at all. There is, I discovered, such a huge range of dog whistles of varying pitches that it would be virtually impossible to try them all. Anyway, I have no reason to imagine that she would hear any of them.
It has also occurred to me that she has never been ‘taught’ to hear. That might seem a strange observation, but if you are not taught that a sound is significant, would you respond to it? Her other behaviours tell me that she has been conditioned to be afraid of dogs, so it makes sense that barking scares her. It seems silly, but I often wonder if she could learn to ‘hear’ other sounds.
She loves her off-lead sprees, and if only she could manage recall, she might be able to enjoy more more freedom.
Also, I’d love her to be able to attend dog training. She can walk well on her lead, sit, go down, stay, ‘follow me’ and walk in civilised fashion through a gate. Currently she is studying ‘go to your bed’. Her touch vocabulary continues to grow – not that she always obeys the commands, of course, but I’m sure she has the potential.
Her inability to achieve the recall element is, of course, a major obstacle to her attempting her Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog bronze award.
So, here we are. Stuck.
We’ve blown whistles, clicked different tones of clickers, stamped on the floorboards, bashed the floor with broomsticks, pounded the walls, whispered in turn into each of her ears, clanged waste bins, clashed saucepan lids, snapped, clacked, pinged, sung, growled, buzzed like a bee, hummed and shrieked. All to no avail.
It just doesn’t make sense to me that she can only hear barking.
We’ll rewind to yesterday: Isis has had two very good walks and is sleeping soundly on the futon. I begin my regular routine of calling her out her name, very loudly. I watch her closely as I progress from the deepest tone I can manage to the highest shrieky squeak.
I don’t know why I’m doing it. I don’t expect a response.
I don’t get one.
Not a movement. Her beautiful – but, obviously, merely ornamental – ears remain lifeless. Neither eyelid blinks. Not a whisker twitches.
In the kitchen, I reach into her cupboard, feeling for her dog whistle. I haven’t tried it for a very long time. I can’t find it. Instead, I dig out the ordinary, green plastic whistle I found a year or two ago. It was probably used for football training.
I have no expectation of any response from Isis, but I give it a good blast any way.
SHE IS ELECTRIFIED. Her ears shoot up in the air as though tweaked by a puppeteer. She leaps to her feet. She barks alarmed barks.
Of course, I’m sorry that I frightened her, but my overwhelming feeling is joy. I can’t believe it. I am absolutely thrilled.
She is soon stroked back to calmness. But my mind is racing. “I’ve found something she can hear”, I keep shouting to myself, “I’ve found something she can hear!”
The possibilities are endless. Or so it seems to me.
I blow the whistle again, a shorter blast this time, and immediately reward her with a cube of cheese. She is a little unnerved by the whistle, but each of the five times the exercise is repeated, she takes the cheese and eats it.
I decide to stick to this routine two or three times a day for a week, then to work at getting her to come a couple of steps towards me for the cheese.
Of course, it’s possible that she won’t respond next time. But surely that’s not likely.
Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk