Hark, I Hear a Bark!
The hour was late, the sky was black, the moon was full, and I was outdoors; I was bored, and I wanted to communicate with kindred spirits within a mile of the Inn. So, to the casual observer, for no apparent reason at all, I began a slow, rhythmic barking. Why? It’s what dogs do.
Being a dog isn’t at all like being a human. We can’t talk; and, contrary to all the myths floating around, we have no definitive language; we just bark, and except for the “offensive growl,” most of our communications are non-verbal. We generally bark to let you know we are here.
We have probably just four basic modes of barking; we bark as an offensive gesture, a warning or an alert; we bark because we are excited, happy, or hungry; we bark because we are bored; and sometimes we bark just to see if any other dogs are out there.
Bored barking in search of a response (we call it ‘sentinel barking’), is these days like a personal roll call. In medieval days, wolves and sometimes even dogs used to bark, and more generally howl, to define the limits of their territory. Now we use it to say “. . .it’s midnight and all’s well in my sector ,” or “damn, I’m bored, is anybody out there?” Believe it or not, there is no real language or definitive communication going on here; a bark is unique to the dog who is barking, and to other dogs, it just represents the sound of another dog barking; our tone actually adds the real meaning to any bark. So, in the dark of night, we bark, and we wait.
Now, if you live in an urban setting, this late-night ‘sentinel bark,’ if repeated to often, can be grounds for a phone call from an angry neighbor, a lawsuit, or even a bullet, depending on the level of civility in your area. Of course, the world will never know how many burglaries, assaults (or worse) have been discouraged by the lowly ‘sentinel bark.’
Although the sentinel bark is theoretically a warning, it is still relatively passive and a lot more generic than the ‘offensive growl.’ The offensive growl is much more behavior-specific, and we generally growl or simply remain silent just prior to biting. Growling dogs are just covering the preliminaries prior to actual engagement.
For example: there are few pleasures greater than barking at Jason, our UPS delivery man. You will notice that I said “bark,” and not “growl.” There are several dynamics going on here; first, Jason is not truly afraid of me, mainly because I have never growled at him; second, my real reason for barking when Jason arrives is to let folks at the Inn know that we have a non-paying visitor, and I am “on the job;” and third, Jason is never condescending to me; he usually makes eye contact and calls me “sport” or “buddy,” or some other inane name. In addition, his basic body language shows me that he is not assuming any defensive postures, and he shows no evidence of launching an attack, since all in all, we both feel safe. Besides, his hands are usually pretty full by the time I finally get access to him, so he’s not really a threat. I don’t consider Jason to be a buddy, but he is about as close to being a friend as any of the Inn’s present staff (with the exception of Micah, who is truly my friend).
Casey Campbell, the Fedex delivery guy is another story altogether. I can easily sense that Casey is afraid of me. Casey isn’t really any more of a threat then Jason, but because I know that he fears me, I can play him like a rawhide bone. I generally keep up the pressure and follow close on his heels all the way from the truck to the porch, and from the porch back to the truck. I don’t growl, but I keep up a steady low-level harangue and raise the hackles on my back to show him that I am diligently monitoring his every move. I don’t cut him any slack all year long, but I do like to mess with his mind every once in awhile in the summer by becoming chummy with the substitute Fedex drivers when Casey goes on vacation. Ross, Mark, and Anthony think I literally ‘walk on water.’ Casey really hasn’t figured this out, and it keeps him totally off-balance. Also, Casey is sometimes difficult to connect with because he gets lost so often on these mountainous back roads that he really cannot be depended upon to arrive at any consistent time of day.
The good Reverend, Calvin Paine from Isabel’s Baptist church, receives the same treatment as the Jehovah’s Witnesses who venture up the walk during the year. It is fun to get their undivided attention for a few precious moments, and savor the ever-familiar scent of their adrenelin rush as they scurry to, or hurry away from, the front door of the Inn. As we get older, it’s fun to fool with peoples’ minds.
Yes, maybe I do have a ‘Jekyl and Hyde’ personality. If you want to hear my happy bark, just become a guest and visit Faded Glory Farm. I save my happy face exclusively for guests who pull up under the portico on Friday afternoons. If you happen to have a nice female pooch with you, I can get even friendlier. This isn’t a plug for the Inn, but it demonstrates the fact that we dogs can really roll out the welcome mat up here in the north Georgia mountains. Y’all come see us, hear?