Unwillingly eavesdropping on the pooches

There are many instances when one can take what is commonly considered to be an irritating annoyance and, through nothing more than the willful manipulation of one’s attitude, make the annoyance morph into something more likable. Say, an amusement, or even a fascination.

This sanity-enhancing mechanism operates very much like an old-fashioned rabbit-eared TV antenna, where the desired station comes in real fuzzy on the three o’clock setting, but much stronger at seven. Same thing with your internal attitudometer. When you realize you don’t HAVE to respond to a certain irritating stimulus in the same habitual way every time, but that you have a choice of settings that allow for genuinely different reactions, you can make things interesting for yourself. At least, for a while.

Take, for example, barking dogs. The usual five-step reaction that you experience when dogs in the neighborhood bark incessantly for no apparent reason is probably the same one all of us have programmed into our bio-computers. Namely: 1. “The dogs are barking.” 2. “It’s two minutes later, and the dumb dogs are still barking.” 3. “Why are those stupid curs still barking!?” 4. The yelling and bellowing stage, featuring the words “shut up” followed by a minimum of five exclamation points. 5. “Honey, where’s my dadgummed slingshot!?!”

At this point, I should make it clear that in no way do I condone the tossing of small dogs into busy streets as a means of resolving driving disputes.

Recently, when the dogs in my ‘hood cranked it up early in the evening of a 90-plus-degree day, I managed to tweak that interior attitudometer, going from the “totally peeved at all the damn barking” setting to the “inquisitive pseudo-biologist” setting. At that spot on my psycho-dial, instead of sputtering off on a crazed search for my vengeful slingshot, I instead asked if there were something going on here among the dogs that irritated humans generally miss. Could these dim, toilet bowl-slurping savages be engaged in some kind of genuine communication?

The answer was a highly questionable, and not in any way defensible, “yes.”

There were three of them participating in this chatty little woof-off. They weren’t just barking to hear themselves bark, as the irritated slingshottist in me wanted to believe. No, they were having a conversation. True, I’m prone to sappy spurts of anthropomorphism at times, but I swear if you had been sitting with me that night, you would have agreed that these Alpo-bloated ne’er-do-wells were doing more than just foaming their chops and making a racket. They were having a little visit. Here’s the translation.

Dog 1: Woof! (Here I am!)

Dog 2: Ruff, ruff! (Here I am!)

Dog 3: Bark! (Here I am!)

Dog 1: Woof! (I’m here!)

Dog 2: Ruff, ruff! (I’m here!)

Dog 3: Bark! (I’m here!)

This went on for 25 minutes.

Then, quite involuntarily, I clicked back to the highly irritated mode, found the slingshot and then, thank God, a box of walnuts.