She used to wake up barking. My daughter, that is.
I’d hear her start in after her morning nap, woofing and yapping from her crib as she mimicked the two golden labs across the alleyway. The wretched animals carried on from eight in the morning until five at night. They barked at every passerby, every leaf fluttering across the alley, every squirrel, every noise. All day. Every day.
The incessant dog barking shredded my nerves. And it clearly made an impression on my toddler as well.
The neighbors had a practice of letting the dogs out in the morning, leaving for the day and bringing them back inside when they returned home. The system no doubt worked marvelously for them. Because they weren’t around to hear them yap all day. We repeatedly asked them to keep the dogs inside. Or purchase bark collars. But nothing ever changed.
Even when animal control issued warning after warning due to complaints from us and other neighbors, the couple just smiled and carried on with their routine.
This went on for almost two years until I finally convinced my husband that I’d had enough. We sold the house we loved and set off for a new neighborhood in pursuit of peace and quiet. (Although … true story … a few months after we moved we were subpoenaed to testify on behalf of the city against the neighbors for the dog barking. Apparently the city had finally gotten around to addressing the issue.)
We enjoyed nine relatively bark-free years in a quiet corner of the suburbs. Then we discovered our dream home. It was a house in the country surrounded by gently rolling hills and cornfields with woodsy patches dotting the landscape.
Though we loved the country house right off the bat, I insisted on visiting it five times before making an offer. Never forgetting the nightmare barking issue at our first home, I wanted to be sure that there were no barking dogs or any other annoying noises.
Each time we toured the home, I’d stand on the deck, face turned to the perfect blue sky, and listen. I heard roosters crowing, tractors in the distance, cattle lowing, birds calling and wind in the trees. But no dogs.
I pictured endless days of sweet silence in the country. And we made the deal.
Shortly after moving in, I noticed a dog barking nearby … triggering all the alarm bells in my mind. I couldn’t believe I had missed a barking dog in all of our pre-purchase visits.
Evidently a neighbor had purchased a new dog just that week. And that thing barked it’s fool head off. All morning. All afternoon. All night.
Dread washed over me as I feared history was repeating itself.
Luckily the new pooch eventually settled in and chilled out a bit. Even so, we’ve since learned that dogs are kind of a mandatory accessory out in the country. Almost every neighbor within a one-mile radius of our house has a dog. Many have two.
Mind you, these dogs are nothing like what we experienced in our first home. All the canines combined on this street couldn’t bark more than the ones we used to share that alley with. Most of the neighbor dogs out here are friendly, decently quiet and mind their own business unless someone walks by. Which I guess is the point of having a guard dog.
Still, it feels like some sort of cosmic joke that it rains dogs in the country. And I’ll admit it chaps me whenever I hear a dog barking for an extended period of time. Especially when one starts in at 5AM or barks all night. But if I’ve learned anything, I have learned that dogs are inevitable in life. So I knew I had to figure out a way to not let them get under my skin.
One day when a particular dog was on a bender, I tried something. Each time the dog barked I reminded myself, “You are not alone.” Over and over again I chanted that sentiment to myself.
I then took it a step further and used the barking as a cue to think about how grateful I am for my neighbors – all of whom are dear people. And slowly, by repeating this trick, the frank irritation I used to experience anytime I heard a dog bark subsided.
The reality is, people make noise. Unhappily, so do their dogs. And living in the country is not nearly as quiet as I thought it would be. But changing my response to the barking has transformed what otherwise would spiral into anger and resentment into a steady reminder to be grateful for my community of neighbors.
Because I truly hit the neighbor jackpot when we moved out to the country. These are the best kind of people. Hard working, helpful, fun to hang out with and true. And to top it off, they have delightful kids who have become fast friends with mine.
I’ve even employed this trick for other noises. When a lawnmower starts up on an otherwise perfect summer night, I remember I am not alone. When music is pumping off in the distance, I remember I am not alone. When I hear my favorite noise, the sweet sound of kids shrieking next door, I am thrilled that my kids are not alone.
Honestly, I would prefer a world of barkless dogs, stereos without base and silent lawn equipment. I just would. But if I can’t have it that way, I am glad I found a way to be thankful for the people attached to the sounds.