UNITED STATES—Dogs lower blood pressure. They can stand on their hind legs and make a goofy grin. I knew a screenwriter, oh so afflicted, whose life dramatically improved, where back surgery and acupuncture had failed, and then a dog came into it. The difference was huge—night and day—he radiated contentment and zest for life.
You’d think with all the beneficial effects of owning a dog, I’d be ready to jump in. One thing I’ve noticed among dog owners, though, is that they all seem to forfeit the belief that dogs should bark. And I’m just not ready to go there.
Apparently, when another person’s presence triggers the bark, you as a dog owner are to call out the dog’s name. And the fiercer the better; that is supposed to teach the dog some manners. If the dog doesn’t comply, then you threaten to take away their driving privileges for a week. That’ll really show ‘em.
I have suffered the barking dog problem in the flesh. The gate were I enter my home adjoins my neighbors’ fence. If I enter the gate or take out the trash, however silently, it’s sure to provoke barking. It’s not the barking that I mind, it’s the people. I mean really, you’re stopping a dog from barking? Does an orange tree grow fish? Do zebras sing opera? You would be better off to pursue these results than hope to break a dog of barking.
And the human voices are really jarring, full of real anger, rage and distress, all wasted on a canine. (What these people really need is a child, I believe, so all that animosity need not go to use). Above all, I feel sorry for the dog. My sensitive, people-pleasing nature bowed for a while to the urge to stop taking out the trash and going in and out of my house, and to avert the whole fandango stirring up the barks and then the inevitable: “Bukowski, Bowkowski “(this is a very literate dog) “Stop it! Bad boy ! You’re coming inside.” But the garbage piled up.
This first few times the owners reprimanded their dog for barking I sincerely told them that I don’t mind. I really don’t. It’s not the dogs, it’s the people. I spoke the truth, and what I learned was you can’t teach people new tricks, so embedded in their psyche is the belief that if you get loud enough and stern enough a dog can be cured of barking.
Dog owners seem to all be in league; they simply cannot abide that there is another human being fully at ease with a barking dog. What is the Arab proverb attributed to Andre Gide? “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” I’d be quite happy to stay with the dogs.
One day I hit on a solution, to lean down and peer through the cracks in the fence, stare down the dog and say nothing. I was really getting somewhere. The dog reached a plateau of silence, and then the master came out like the mother reappears at the end of the “Cat in the Hat.” You never see her head; and I never see the neighbors, as the fence obscures them.
“Now, Bukowski, come back in.” She was out soon enough to curtail the experiment. I have now ceased any verbal communication with dogs or owners. I go through the gate and take out my trash as I please. My neighbors may attribute annoyance to my silence. Not far from the mark.
This silent feud has brought me into a side of human nature I’d prefer not to have glimpsed—the side of people that doesn’t want the solutions we say we seek. We want to be happy and yet we at times don’t want to be happy. We know what we want, it’s to be unhappy and nothing else will do. The unpleasantness ripples against all those trying to help. People with dogs are like that: they want the dogs to be silent and nothing will disabuse them of the notion.
Conclusion: dogs are our best friend; man can sometimes be dogs’ worst foe.
Humorist Grady Miller is the author of “Late Bloomer,” a collection of vintage Miller from the Canyon-News, available on Amazon.