Posting day: Sunday, and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday June 21st 2020
It must have been about two years ago when I came across a surprising statement in an article about podengos. ‘Podengos are very fond of the sound of their own voices.’
Isis isn’t a vocal dog. But the article is authoritative, well researched, and well written. So what’s the matter with her?
True, there are the rages. We’ve discussed the hysterical outbursts which used to accompany each meal time, those hair-raising shrieks which, I assume, are designed to see off imagined hordes of wolves and hyenas.
For years, whether it is sparked by frustration, an imagined threat to her person or her food, a dog nightmare or a lost treat, her reaction is always the same: wild screams, snarls , growls and barks of pure rage. Yes, at these times she makes a hell of a noise, but I don’t think that’s what the writer of the article means by ‘very fond of their own voices.’
Then there are the persistent, irritated snarls and yaps which follow the switching on of a light, the opening of blinds, or a slice of sun sneaking round the edge of a curtain.
These are ‘protest’ barks.
And, as time passes, she often emits a long, resonant howl of what I take to be excited anticipation when I’m struggling to clip on her harness in the porch.
If, as I frequently do, I then turn back into the house for something I’ve forgotten, she’ll paw at the low shelf so that it tips up and deposits its contents on the floor. But she doesn’t bark. She doesn’t even protest if I forget to feed her. She just looks resigned and goes to sleep.
Hmm. Isis must simply be an atypical podengo, I decide, and think no more of it.
Gradually, though, she changes. It’s only over the last few months that I begin to realise that she expresses her feelings much more often than she did even six months ago.
It’s not just that she’s more voluble though; her comments on life are also much more specific. For years, apart from the musical porch howl, she voices only anger. Now, day by day, she refines her growl and bark vocabulary.
As far as I can remember, the first addition to her repertoire happens one night a year or so ago when she comes across a large hedgehog in her garden. She responds to this strange phenomenon with a sound I’ve never heard her make before – series of low, muffled little ‘oof…oof…oof ‘ s
Oh. OK. So this is her ‘surprised bark’.
Next to emerge, I believe, is a very loud ‘RAH-RAH-RAH-RAH-RAH uttered when we step out of our front gate as an innocent pedestrian is passing. Even worse is the barking when the street appears to me to be empty but she picks up the scent of someone who has very recently passed. It’s worse because I am not prepared for her screamy warnings and they tear through me like electric shocks.
When she barks like this, she means it. There’s no question that she would attack if I didn’t restrain her.
In the Highbury car park, only last week, she barks an identical bark at a stranger who walks too close to her car.
Right. These, obviously, are examples of her territorial bark.
For years, these are the extent of her vocabulary.
Then, only very recently, she develops what I can only describe as ‘entitlement’ barks.
These are quite finely graded. Only one is angry: that’s a protest she sometimes makes when I leave her downstairs at night. For a while I can’t work out what sets her off. As far as I am concerned, the scenario is always the same. She pops outside. When she returns, she disappears into the back room, then turns and pokes her little head round the door.
I unclip and remove her collar, then return to the kitchen to lock the back door and collect five treats. Nowadays, if this takes more than a minute, she gives a good-tempered, but firm ‘woff-woff.’
Quite understandable. This must be an entitlement bark.
When she has ‘found’ three ‘hidden’ treats, she jumps up onto the day bed to receive the final two.
She seems to be particularly fond of the next routine and is anxious to get on with it. She also knows how easily Human is distracted, knows that a dog shouldn’t have to wait; therefore, if there’s more than thirty seconds’ delay, she delivers a volley of very high pitched, piercing, barks.
The treats arrive. They are two gravy bones broken into six pieces. As soon as I sit down, she positions herself very close to my left side and tolerates a cuddle. Piece by piece, I hand feed all but one to her, then signal ‘down’ and ‘last one’ before cupping the sixth piece in my hand. She has to wrestle it out from between my fingers. She always ‘wins’, of course, even if she has to hold my hand down with a firm paw. Finally, after a soppy few seconds and a goodnight pat, I leave the room.
Sometimes, there’s a blissful silence, and when I peer round the door, there she is, snuggled at my end of the bed, ready for sleep.
At other times, as soon as I get up, she twirls round irritably and barks.
Or she waits until I’m in the kitchen making myself a coffee before she erupts. Or she waits until I’m upstairs in the bathroom. Or the outburst comes when I go into my bedroom.
Whatever her timing, I must rush back and give her a little poke with a finger as it’s very late and I don’t want her to disturb my neighbours.
To me, these nocturnal performances are completely random. I’m ashamed to admit that it takes me a very, very, long time to learn that whatever a dog says or does, there’s always a reason for her behaviour.
It’s never random, Human. So why is she doing it? Stop and think. Ask yourself what isn’t OK.
Right. When Isis wants to sleep at night, she is very, very irritated by any light whatsoever. It dawns on me that she doesn’t appreciate the light being on in the kitchen while Human wanders around making coffee or deciding whether to clear something away or whether to take a biscuit to bed.
Isis is tired. She needs darkness. She’s disturbed and miserable when lights flash on and off in the hall, and suddenly pop on in the rooms upstairs. I have no idea how she perceives the trickle of light sneaking around my bedroom door, but she does.
So I devise a routine and make an effort to follow it.
I make the coffee and the biscuit decisions and switch off the kitchen light before dog’s bedtime. The front room door and blinds are closed to block off the seepage of light from passing cars.
Click. Click. Off goes the hall light and on goes the landing light. I hurry upstairs so that the landing light won’t disturb her. I close the bathroom door before switching on the bathroom light, and close the bedroom door before switching on the bedside lamp.
A comforting fleece of silence descends on the house.
All is peaceful.
Hairy One sleeps.
*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