Yappy mutts

When Po-Po turns into a yappy mutt, Miko and Mei Mei have to do with fewer cud­dles.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PETS - ellen whYte

EVER since Miko and Mei Mei came to live next door, we’ve had a very friendly over-the-fence re­la­tion­ship. We nick­name them The Grem­lins be­cause their ears stand up when they’re happy; it’s a clas­sic Silky Ter­rier thing.

We were in­tro­duced when Miko and Mei Mei were pups, so they’ve grown up know­ing we’re friendly. For years we would come home to find The Grem­lins stand­ing at their fence, giv­ing a bark or two, as if to say, “Come over and say hello!”

We’d stick our hands through the fence, and rub Miko’s silky ears and ad­mire Mei Mei’s blonde curls. They’re well loved and cared for, so they’re pic­ture-per­fect cute. How­ever, when Miko and Mei Mei had a child, Po-Po, we had to cur­tail our chats be­cause Po-Po is one of those dread­fully ner­vous dogs.

When Miko and Mei Mei bark, they have two modes: the woof-woof that shouts stranger-dan­ger, like the ar­rival of their en­emy the post­man, and the yap-yap

yeeeeeeep hys­ter­i­cal yelp­ing that means some­thing is wrong. The yelp­ing is a blood­cur­dling shriek that goes straight through walls and sets your hair on end.

When they were pups, the sec­ond type of shriek could mean any­thing from mummy giv­ing too much at­ten­tion to Miko, pro­vok­ing out­raged jeal­ousy in Mei Mei to the mu­tual sight­ing of some­thing wild and scary like a cock­roach. Luck­ily that phase didn’t last long.

With Po-Po, though, the bark­ing was quite dif­fer­ent. He grew out of the blood-cur­dling yelp­ing fairly quickly but he has a bark that starts off loud and be­comes more and more shrill. The trou­ble is that once he starts, he just can’t stop. Po-Po is such a noisy lit­tle thing that we had to cut back on our vis­its to his mum and dad as it dis­turbs the en­tire neigh­bour­hood.

In fact, the ruckus also upsets Miko and Mei Mei. You see, some­times, when I think the two older dogs are out alone, we sneak a lit­tle cud­dle time. When we get away with it, we have a good chat and catch up, just like the old days.

If Po-Po ap­pears out of nowhere and starts his yap-fest, I’m pre­pared to just walk away. How­ever, some­times his mum Mei Mei turns around and bites her son firmly on the ear. She’s got quite a nip when she puts her mind to it, so it’s some­thing to avoid. Miko is made of dif­fer­ent stuff: he just barks back at Po-Po.

A while back, Miko and Mei Mei’s hu­man fam­ily took ad­vice and were told that Po-Po would calm down as he ages. Ap­par­ently he is a lit­tle ex­tra ner­vous be­cause he had a dif­fi­cult time be­ing born. His sib­lings (now hap­pily adopted to good homes) were born in the usual way, but Po-Po was half a day or more be­hind.

It’s a shame be­cause we’ve been miss­ing cud­dling Miko and Mei Mei and, by the looks on their faces, they’re up­set that we don’t come round as much, too. It got me won­der­ing, though, about the rea­son why some dogs bark so much and oth­ers are quiet.

For ex­am­ple, Mojo, the mop­pet pet who lives down the road, barks only oc­ca­sion­ally, and the big Dober­man who’s just moved in op­po­site us is a strong and silent type – ex­cept for when his mum ac­ci­den­tally shut the front door on him last week and then he howled like a wolf and scared the liv­ing day­lights out of Tar­get, our se­nior cat.

As a base­line, people talk, shout and whis­per while dogs bark, whine, howl and growl. It’s the way they talk. A dog who is bark­ing is like a hu­man who is shout­ing. Bark­ing is usu­ally short-lived and is used as an alert. It can mean the dog is hun­gry, thirsty, bored or that there is a dan­ger of some sort.

When dogs first started liv­ing with us, it was prob­a­bly bark­ing (as well as hunt­ing rats, herd­ing sheep and other use­ful jobs) that made the dog so wel­come. It’s a doggy alarm that means “there’s some­one ap­proach­ing” – which is handy if your door­bell doesn’t work or you have raiders try­ing to ran­sack your property.

Wild dogs bark a lot when they’re pup­pies but when they grow up, they bark once or twice when there’s dan­ger and then they shut up. This alerts the pack and al­lows ev­ery­one to see what’s up and to de­cide on what ac­tion to take.

The the­ory is that pet dogs bark as adults be­cause of se­lec­tive breed­ing and train­ing. We like dogs that bark so we favour them and we en­cour­age them to act as guards. How­ever, pet dogs can be­come nui­sance bark­ers be­cause own­ers ac­ci­den­tally mis-train their dogs.

When the dog barks, the owner yells, “Shut up!” which the dog in­ter­prets as the pack leader bark­ing along sup­port­ively. If the boss is shout­ing, there must be se­ri­ous dan­ger, the dog rea­sons, so he or she barks louder, the owner shouts louder, and be­fore you know it, you’ve got a se­ri­ous ca­coph­ony.

Ca­nine be­haviourists rec­om­mend that the proper way to train your dog is to look up when your dog barks, and to check out the dan­ger. If it’s noth­ing, pat your pet, give praise for a job well done, and then take the dog with you and do some­thing calm­ing, like watch­ing TV or read­ing a book. This way, your pet does her or his job and won’t over-bark.

From what friends with dogs tell me, this ad­vice is ex­cel­lent and it works beau­ti­fully. How­ever, none of them have a hys­ter­i­cal per­son­al­ity like Po-Po who sees ev­ery­thing from fall­ing leaves to cats me­ow­ing in the dis­tance as threats.

Po-Po is now more ma­ture and I’m happy to say that when I pet­ted Miko and Mei Mei last week, he came out­side, yapped for a few sec­onds, skit­tered back in­side the house – and shut up!

So with a bit of luck our cud­dle times are on again. Just in time for Valen­tine’s Day, too!

Ellen Whyte is ruled by cats but also has dog friends. She blogs at http://blog.lepak.com

Se­nior dog: Miko, one of the Grem­lins.

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