Max is overall a very quiet dog. The only times I’ve heard him bark at home are when he gets really excited and wants to play. It’s the kind of bark that is the result of excitement bubbling over uncontrollably. Those barks are surprising, but I really like them.
Max is also relatively quiet when we go in public. There are some dogs in our neighborhood who bark like crazy when we walk by. Compared to them, Max is almost monk-like. But lately, he has started barking back more often.
And the more Max barks, the more I realize not all barks are the same.
There’s Max’s playful, excited bark, which sometimes emerges on walks too. Then there’s his protective, warning bark – a low rumbly growl that slowly builds to a solid staccato utterance. This comes out very infrequently when he perceives a dog to be an actual threat. I don’t know whether it’s meant to be a warning for me or for the other dog, or probably both, but it is both fierce and protective.
Similar to this warning bark, Max also has a bark that is straight up violent. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two, but this bark is much more aggressive and I’ve only seen it once or twice (and I intentionally say see it, because it involves his whole body – he gets tense and lunges as he barks).
He’s also got his somewhat mindless responsive bark – the bark that sounds like a stuck record, repeating the exact same tone over and over. This bark comes out when there’s just a lot of other barking noise around him and he feels compelled to join in.
And Max has a bark that is almost more of a whimper – a bark to let me know something is not right with him. I’ve heard this when he steps on something sharp or when he gets sick and needs to alert me to let him out. It’s his cry for help bark.
So Max has his playful barks, his threatening barks, his violent barks, his noisy barks, and his cry for help barks. Max has taught me that not all barks are the same.
And yet, it’s easy to forget that very important reality when I turn my attention to people. People make a lot of noise – we have many cries for help or violent utterances. And when it is not my own noise, it is hard to remember that not all noise, cries, yells are the same. It is easy to confuse the alerting yells from the violent ones, but it is terribly problematic when we do.
It is problematic and wrong to lump together the cries of injustice with the cries of hate – they are distinctly different and in fact one causes the other (hint – it’s the hate that causes the injustice).
This important point of not lumping all barks or cries together was made very apparent to me when walking Max the other day. We wound up walking at a very popular time of day, so we passed many other dogs. And Max had a different reaction to all of them. With some he shared a playful bark and I knew not to be worried. With others he started to get threatening and I knew we needed to move on – I knew to pull him and silence that kind of barking.
Max has taught me that some kinds of barks are important while some need to be muzzled. I do all I can to silence Max in his violent barks or his barks just for the sake of more noise, and yet I listen closely and act on his behalf when I hear the playful barks or the barks signaling my attention. Likewise, some types of human utterance are important and need to be heeded (the cries of injustice, the cries that black lives matter) and some screams need to be hushed (the cries of hate, the cries of racist ideology and the cries of those supporting confederate symbols and monuments that perpetuate that racist ideology).
Max has also taught me that sometimes I really have to know the dog or person to pick up on the subtle differences between the barks or cries. I have lived with Max several years, so I know his barks well. I can tell in a moment what kind of bark it will be. But when I encounter another person’s dog it is not always so easy. Some dogs come across as more aggressive, but it is just because I don’t know them well. I believe the same is true of many people I know.
Max has taught me that sometimes I need to take time to get to know those who cry in order to know what kinds of cries they are uttering.
But only sometimes. Because it’s still pretty easy to tell when a strange dog is barking in a way that indicates he wishes me harm verses a dog who is barking because something is wrong. I believe the same is true of many people I know, especially since for people I can tell the content of what is being shared. In the cases mentioned above, it seems all too easy to tell the difference between the types of cries.
I’d do well to remember that not all canine barks or human cries are the same. I’d do better to attend closely to the cries of injustice and to do all I can to silence the cries of hatred.
Thank you Max, for teaching me that not all canine barks or human cries are the same. Thank you for helping me learn how better to attend to the barks that something is wrong or the cries of injustice. And thank you for helping me learn how to hush the barks of violence or the cries of hate.