The Joy of Barking

Our next-door neighbor Mike says he never minds the barking of dogs, because it’s the way they express themselves and communicate.  It’s a good thing he’s tolerant, because our shih tzus tend to be vocal around breakfast and dinner times, and whenever I’m out of sight for too long.  And our beagle, well….he sometimes seems to think he’s out in the woods and fields, hunting, baying at the top of his lungs.  All of this meaning, of course, that our house is noisy from time to time.  However, we prefer the sounds of the animals to those of the people across the street with their parties, and the music blasting from down the block, but that’s another story.

This morning was sunny and fairly warm, after another freaky spring thunderstorm and deluge last night.  The air was clean and sparkling, and the flowering bush by the pond was bright green.  Our foxhound, Annie, wanted to go out, then made the rounds of the yard, skirting the muddy patches.  Why she won’t go out in the rain and avoids mud puddles in the yard is a mystery, because when we go camping, she’s like a child who can’t wait to stomp through the worst puddles.  She revels in getting as mud-covered as possible.  We can only suppose that foreign mud is superior to that in our yard.

When she came back up onto the deck, Annie stood for a moment, looking all around.  There was not a bird, squirrel, or person in sight.  She raised her muzzle into the air and barked several times, as if glorying in the bright day and the new growth.  It truly appeared as if she was simply being joyful.  I had to think she was taking as much delight as I was in the flowers, new leaves, just the feel of spring.  Who’s to say she wasn’t?  I’m sure Mike approved.

I just read that in analyzing dogs’ brain responses to language, researchers discovered that dogs show more activity when strange words are spoken to them, as opposed to words they’ve heard often, such as “toy,” “treat,” and so on.  If they’ve been trained to retrieve a monkey toy, for instance, their brains respond more to something like, “monkmon” than to, “monkey.”  This result is exactly the opposite of the way human brains work; humans alert more to familiar terms than unfamiliar ones.  The study offered no reason for the difference in responses, but I wonder if dogs remain more wild than we do—to them, their survival still depends on picking up on unusual sounds and sights in their environment.  It probably explains why dogs can sleep through the daily activities of their humans, but are instantly on guard if a strange person appears.  Yet another reason our canine companions are invaluable. 

I took my cue from Annie this afternoon, and as I drove out to pick up my husband, I noticed all the trees in bloom, along with the daffodils, forsythia, hyacinths, and other early flowers.  There is joy in these things, and proof that Mother Nature isn’t daunted by human crises.  That’s both humbling and comforting.

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