Giada is a barker. She comes by it naturally, not just because she is a dog, but because she is a livestock guardian dog — a Maremma. She is still young, not even two years yet, and so this is right on cue. Maremmas are a slow maturing breed who wake up to the full extent of their instincts at about this age. Her instinct is to bark at danger, at things of concern and she is finding her voice.
Sophie and Marco went through this as well; bark because something doesn’t feel right or sound right or look right and learn whether that is true or not. We were on the hill in California when Sophie and Marco were coming into themselves, which made it both easier and more difficult. It was easier because we were so isolated – if they barked, it was most likely at something occurring in the native environment (or our neighbor John’s old diesel truck) and I was inclined to believe them first, ask questions later. It was harder because it was sixty acres of rugged terrain and it was often difficult to get myself to where they were in order to help them deal with their concerns.
Still, I tried, especially for barking that occurred around the homestead. I made a commitment to drop what I was doing and go to them, let them know they were doing exactly what they should and then, if it proved false or the cause of concern was over – to let it go. Enough. Come home now. Show’s over.
Marco picked this up first, a glance over his shoulder to see if I was coming and watching for what my response was to the perceived danger. Yes, please bark at the coyotes. Okay, you can bark at the hawk. Do not EVER bark at the horses or donkeys (Beamer banging at the gate being an exception to this rule for Marco alone, one he picked up from me, to be sure).
Sophie, on the other hand, was not as willing to subvert her opinion for mine. I gave her a fair bit of latitude for that because it had been so dang hard to get her to come out of her reclusive shell. It also meant I had to come down harder on her when it was really, really over and she really, really needed to let it go. It’s a card I hated to play, but we found our middle ground.
Giada is more like Sophie, except with a vastly larger dose of submissiveness mixed in. If you looked harshly at Giada, she peed her pants, metaphorically – the ground, literally.
Also, Giada is finding herself relative to her breed’s calling within an entirely different environment. We are in Florida now, on a twenty acre horse farm. It’s still a good bit of territory, but there are neighbors on three sides and a fairly busy road in the front and there is more static, especially at night when sound carries –dogs barking from far off, a motorcycle accelerating down at the corner.
In Giada’s case, everything and anything seems worth barking about. The frogs in the pond are a big one – oh my god, can we please get over the frogs in the pond? What livestock has ever been taken down by frogs? She also alarms at the birds waking up in the morning, which is very much earlier than I want to wake up. Another good one – moths at night thumping repeatedly into the big, halogen barn light.
I am as committed to Giada’s education as I was for Marco and Sophie, but I am so sleep deprived, I cannot see straight. Marco and Sophie roam at night; that is when it is most important for them to do their job. We started there with Giada, but I have now taken away her nighttime roaming privileges. The frogs and the moths and the birds made me do it. The dog door stays open for those who use it responsibly. I have, therefore, resorted to putting a leash on Giada at night and tying her to me. If she alarms and Sophie and Marco do not, I settle her back to sleep. If she alarms and Sophie and Marco are all in on it, we get up and we go check — together. Then, when it is done, we go back to bed where she needs to settle down. Enough. Over. Bed.
It mostly works. She is trying so very hard to comply with the program. It’s just that she has these urges and they overwhelm her young little mind and body. So, we are finding our middle ground on this. She has created a new vocabulary – not a bark, certainly not silence, more like bark muttering – more like what happens when your mother chews you out which ends with “are we clear about this” and you say “yes” to her face, but as you turn to leave, words are coming out under your breath and she says “what did you say” and you say “nothing”. Yeah, just like that.
It is making me mental. I let it go in the beginning because I felt she needed the outlet. Also, it is so damn endearing, I can’t help but laugh when she does it. Gordy thinks it’s hysterical. I am going to tie Giada to Gordy at night and see if he still thinks it’s hysterical after walking outside with her and finding out he did it for a frog. Anyway, I let it go. Now, she thinks it is cool, talking smack to me, so much so that she is doing it all the time.
We go for walks around the property once, and often twice daily. I walk and the dogs run and roam, all generally in the same direction. Giada is usually off with Monroe, scouting their secret locations — until she decides she needs to show me how good she is being. Then, she flies back at 90 miles an hour, throwing herself at my feet and bark muttering: Look at me, mom, aren’t I being good? No frogs to be seen, arooh, rooh, rooh. Like a trust fall exercise, she believes I am all about her best interests and would never step on her supine body. If I am not alert for these dive bomb interventions, she will face plant me.
She is usually soaking wet in these experiences. Have I mention how much Giada loves the pond? Enough to swim in it every day, at least fifteen times a day and always during the course of our walks.
Maybe she will grow out of that, just like I fervently hope she grows out of this bark-at-everything phase. But then, if she does truly grow-up, I think of how much less I would have to smile about during a day. Also, who else would be as delighted to throw themselves down and let Monroe chew all over her neck like she was road kill?
Plus, there is that smile and I would never want her to let go of the reasons in her life that make her feel that way.
So, it is a delicate balance, this whole growing up thing. Marco and Sophie are good at what they do. Giada will be good at what she does, even if circus clown is a more apt job description for it than guardian of the universe.
We will love her for who she becomes as we love her now. If I could only just get some sleep.