I work for the largest mental health and addiction treatment hospital in California. My office at our central facility overlooks the street and I am frequently entertained by the driving habits of folks coming and going.
Sometimes a car double parks in the middle of the street and, of course, drivers coming up behind have no idea they are approaching a parked car. Until they get really close, which is when they slam on the brakes and lay on the horn.
Why do vehicles have horns, anyway? A horn is intended for use when you cannot alert other drivers by any other means. Wikipedia says drivers use their horns to warn others of the vehicle’s approach or presence, or to call attention to some hazard.
In Los Angeles, at least, drivers frequently seem to use their horns as an extension of their middle finger. Like when you’re halfway into a lane change, with your blinker on, and some complete moron barrels into the lane with that get out of my way or I’ll run you down attitude.
When you’re hitting your horn – for whatever reason – you are communicating with the drivers and pedestrians around you. How you use your horn determines the message you are communicating.
Why do dogs honk their horns?
Like humans with their horns, if your dog honks its horn, there is a reason. We’re talking about barking here. Why do dogs bark? What does it mean?
Dogtime identifies eight reasons why Oscar is yipping and yapping:
Territorial or defensive barking;
2. Excitement, or happiness at seeing you;
3. Play and exercise;
4. To get your attention or to signal you (I have to go potty);
5. Aggravation over not being able to attain something (your pork chop);
6. Social barking in response to other dogs;
7. Separation anxiety and trepidation; and,
8. Compulsive behavior.
Let’s look at a few of what I think are among the most common reasons.
Barking as Warning
This is territorial or defensive barking, and was the issue we had with our Frenchie, Stella the Enforcer. We had recently moved into a new townhouse complex (still under construction) that was full of unfamiliar sights and sounds of construction and moving trucks.
The worst part for Stella was that her back yard was now a front yard where she could see everything passing by. In other words, everything was unfamiliar, so everything was threatening.
So, I started spending time out front with Stella and helping her, with a calm and reassuring demeanor, to distinguish between normal, everyday sights and sounds, and unusual things she should be alarmed – and therefore bark – at. Over time, she learned, and she stopped barking at everything and everyone.
Except, of course, other dogs; but, that’s just because she wants to play. Being that Stella is still a young dog, that type of barking falls under playfulness and excitement which is common in puppies and young dogs. She’ll grow out of that in time, I believe.
There is a huge difference between barking excitedly and the sharp, loud barking that is a hallmark of barking as warning. You’ve probably heard the same types of barking with your own dogs.
Barking as Greeting
When my children were wee ones and I picked them up at daycare, both would come running with so much joy and exuberance, arms outstretched, and yelling Daddy!! That’s how my dogs greet me when I come home; but, since they can’t yell Daddy, they just bark.
You’re home! You’re home! Yay! We’re so happy that you’re home! Hold me. Pet me. Pet me. Hold me. Take me for a walk!
Cesar Millan suggests that, since pack dogs don’t bark in a burst of affection, ours don’t either. He says they are releasing pent-up energy, telling you their lonely and bored, and that their needs aren’t being met. With all due respect to The Dog Whisperer, I disagree.
Ellen works from home. She’s with them all day. She sees to their emotional and physical needs all day. There is no pent-up energy, boredom or loneliness, and their needs are met. When I come home, they’re excited and joyfully exuberant because they’re happy to see me and they compete with each other for my attention – to be loved on and petted and held or to sit in my lap.
Barking as Separation Anxiety
We used to live, as I mentioned, in a townhouse community, so everyone lives stacked in next to each other and a lot of residents have dogs. We even have a community dog park. One family, though, leaves their dog outside 24/7.
Firstly, what kind of life is that for a dog?! It never gets walked, the only attention it seems to get is when someone yells out the window to quit barking, and its entire world is 200 SF of concrete and bricks. And, no, the police won’t do anything.
No wonder the dog barks at everything that moves. It’s so starved for attention and affection that it runs up to the gate, barking, whenever anyone or anything walks by. Here I am! I’m here! Notice me! Pet me, please! I’m lonely!
I don’t know, maybe they were too cheap to pay for a protection alarm.
These are just a few examples of the True Value of Communication. I’m sure you have examples you could add. I would love to hear from you about your pups and the ways they communicate with you and their world. Please consider sending me a message and sharing – perhaps even writing a guest post for True Value of Dogs. Thank you!
Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way. – Caroline Knapp
As always, if Ms. Rose in fifth period Biology assigned a paper on How Animals Communicate, these references may be helpful to you:
Dogtime. Solutions for barking: How to get a dog to stop barking. Retrieved online at: http://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/675-barking-aspca
Cambridge Media Services. 2018. Horn laws you need to know according to mydriverlicenses.org experts. Retrieved online at: https://mydriverlicenses.org/blog/horn-laws-you-need-know.html
Millan, C. 2017. Why dogs bark. Retrieved online at: https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-behavior/barking-and-howling/discovering-the-cause-of-barking
Park, A. 21 Aug 2015. The do’s and do-not-do’s of car horn etiquette. Retrieved online at: https://www.idrivesafely.com/blog/the-dos-and-do-not-dos-of-car-horn-etiquette/
Stregowski, J. 20 Aug 2017. Why do dogs bark? Retrieved online from: https://www.thespruce.com/why-do-dogs-bark-1118266
The Columbian. 08 May 2014. Barking can bite relationships among neighbors. Retrieved online at: http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/may/09/barking-can-bite-relationships-among-neighbors-dog/
Wikipedia. 01 Jan 2018. Vehicle horns. Retrieved online at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle_horn
My life is likely to last 10 to 15 years. Any separation from you will be painful to me. Remember that before you buy me. (or adopt me)
Give me time to understand what you want from me.
Place your trust in me. It’s crucial to my well-being.
Don’t be angry with me for long, and don’t lock me up as punishment. You have your work, your entertainment and your friends. I only have you.
Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don’t understand your words, I understand your voice when it’s speaking to me.
Be aware that however you treat me, I’ll never forget it.
Remember before you hit me: I have teeth that could easily crush the bones of your hand, but I choose not to bite you.
Before you scold me for being un-cooperative, obstinate or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I’m not getting the right food, or I’ve been out in the sun too long, or my heart is getting old and weak.
Take care of me when I get old. You too will grow old.
Go with me on that final difficult journey. Never say: I can’t bear to watch it or Let it happen in my absence. Everything is easier for me if you are there.
REMEMBER THAT I LOVE YOU.
This is the True Value of Love
Heaven goes by favor; if it were by merit your dog would go in and you would stay out.
(Man) is the most detestable. Of the entire brood, he is the only one that possesses malice. He is the only creature that inflicts pain for sport, knowing it to be pain. ~ Mark Twain
Be kind to your dogs – they love us more than some of us deserve.
I don’t believe all dogs, as a species, experience grief. They aren’t even sufficiently self-aware to recognize themselves in a mirror. I think many dogs instinctively react to the grief we, ourselves, feel – to our distress, to our sadness and sense of loss. But not all dogs.
There are species that we know do experience grief: elephants, dolphins, otters, doves, wolves, to name a few. I wonder why wolves grieve but not domesticated dogs? In any event, grief is not something uniquely human any more than love is uniquely human.
Let me tell you a story that I believe shows that some dogs can, and do, grieve.
Lucy was 10-years old when we adopted our second Boston Terrier, Rocky, in 2011. The relationship between these two was more of Oh, so you live here, too? rather than Oh, you’re my favorite brother! Until 2014.
In January 2014, Lucy started losing her hair, growing a pot belly, getting eye and ear infections, and having urinary and gastrointestinal problems, and was always thirsty. Our veterinarian, who had done her cancer surgery a few years earlier, said the hair loss and pot belly were due to age and treated the infections as unrelated issues.
Lucy kept getting worse and we switched to a new vet in April who conducted an ultrasound and diagnosed her with Cushings Disease. With treatment, a dog with Cushings can live as long as three years; but, the disease ravaged Lucy and she crossed the Rainbow Bridge just eight months after onset of symptoms.
As Lucy suffered and her symptoms improved from the treatment, then got even worse, the one constant throughout the entire ordeal was Rocky. For the last three months of her life, he never left her side.
During Lucy’s illness – or, perhaps because of it – she and Rocky formed a strong emotional bond. He became her constant companion right up until the end. Rocky ate when she ate – or didn’t eat when Lucy was too ill to eat. He sat or lay beside her. He slept when she slept. He even adjusted his bathroom habits so he went outside when she went – no matter how often she had to go out.
For the last three months of her life, he never left her side. Then the day came when we took Lucy to the vet and returned home without her. Rocky was disconsolate and kept searching the house and yard. And he grieved. Oh, how he grieved. He would stand or sit in his crate by himself, facing the wall, obviously depressed. He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t play.
It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of Rocky’s world. All the happiness and exuberance – all the things that made him, well, Rocky, were gone.
Animal emotion and cognition expert, Marc Bekoff, writes: Animal’s emotions are raw, unfiltered, and uncontrolled. Their joy is the purest most contagious of joys and their grief the deepest and most devastating.
My concern over his well-being led me to agree with Ellen’s suggestion to get a French Bulldog puppy. Even though Rocky and I were still lost in our grief.
And so, baby Stella joined our family.
Slowly, incrementally, things began to change as his interest in her grew.
And her interest in him grew.
And Rocky became her guardian and constant companion.
And slowly but surely, he got his Happy back.
But sometimes, when I couldn’t find him, I’d go into our bedroom where Lucy’s bed was still in the corner. And I’d find Rocky there. Sometimes sitting there staring like Lucy had been on her bed the entire time and his were the only eyes that could see her. Sometimes just lying there surrounded by her lingering scent, smelling her more clearly than my nose ever could, as if she had just that moment left the room.
I would sit or lay beside him, just Rocky and me, sharing a few minutes of silence, remembering Lucy, missing Lucy, grieving Lucy. Most of all, loving Lucy. In those moments, I knew that Rocky felt the same soul-crushing grief that I felt.
And that’s how I know that some dogs, at least, can grieve.
Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives. – John Galsworthy
If you’re interested in reading more about animals and grief, check out these resources: