Less Barking, More Trusting
We used to have two dogs, Belle and Tink, white bundles of non-shedding fur. Then I decided to add a third. I have no idea why I decided to throw a furry firework into our peaceful home but I did. Having two dogs is civilized. Having three dogs is like having twelve.
When our son, Christian, left for college in the fall of 2015, we downsized and found a town house in a great neighborhood with blocks of tree-lined streets and parks to walk our dogs. Maggie had always been a bit of a barker, but in this new environment. she became a barking lunatic. She barked when anyone came to the door. When the mailman delivered mail next door! When Frank, the local squirrel, scampered past on the garden fence. She barked no matter what.
That was rough enough, but taking her for a walk became a living nightmare.
Maggie was so committed to barking. she’d almost levitate with energy and angst. Belle and Tink would trot along like little angels, occasionally turning round to shoot us a, “remember how nice life was when it was just us?” look.
One evening I was walking Belle and Tink, and Barry had Maggie. I was a little ahead of them when I spotted the older lady from across the street approaching us with her two angelic poodles. The perfect storm was brewing, right there in our neighborhood. What made it worse was knowing that she knew me. A few nights before when I’d been popping over to the grocery store she’d stopped me and told me how much she enjoyed reading my books.
I knew my entire life’s ministry to this dear soul was about to implode in a hail of barks. I tried to warn Barry. “Danger ahead at thirty paces!” But I don’t think he heard me.
I smiled, said hello to her as I passed, then kept my head down and marched on as if I’d never met Barry before in my life. I got to the end of the street, though, and no apocalyptic event had occurred. Amazed, I turned around to see what had happened. My sweet neighbor had disappeared into the distance. Barry and Maggie, however, were nowhere to be seen. I walked back to see if God in His infinite mercy had decided to rapture them before the rest of us, but there was no empty leash or shoes on the sidewalk. I called Barry’s name. I called Maggie’s name. Nothing!
Suddenly I heard a muffled bark coming from behind the neighbor’s hedge. I peered over the hedge and there they were. Barry was lying on his back with Maggie stuffed up his shirt. Yes, people — a grown man lying in the neighbor’s yard with a wagging tail sticking out the bottom of his sweater!
After I had stopped laughing enough to talk, I said, “You do realize that we’ve become the local weirdos. We’re going to have to move to a lonely sheep station in New Zealand if we don’t do something!”
Back home, in desperation I entered this primal cry into my computer’s search engine, “Crazy barking Yorkie, please help or send a priest!” Immediately something popped up that seemed to offer hope. This dog trainer’s online promise was, “I specialize in ending unwelcome barking.”
So I gave her a call and set up a meeting.
She arrived at the door to a hailstorm of barks. I let her in without making eye contact, “Bad Dog Owner” clearly tattooed on my forehead.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said.
After spending a little time with Maggie, she sat down with us. She told us what she observed.
“You need to understand that Maggie is struggling,” she said. “She feels out of control in a world of new sights and smells. She thinks she needs to take care of you and the other dogs too. You’ve got to learn her language.”
“Learn her language? We’re already the local freak show!” I said.
She smiled and said, “You need to communicate in a way that makes sense to Maggie. Once she finds out you are in charge and she doesn’t have to be, her anxiety and panic will go away.”
Well, she was right. Maggie is like a different little dog now. It took a little while, but once she understood that we’re in control in this new situation, she settled down.
I don’t have to remind you that we are living in crazy days in our nation, and there’s a whole lot of barking going on in social media. It seems to be getting louder and more vicious every day. As a child of God I don’t want to live like that. No matter what happens in the next few weeks and months, I am utterly convinced of one thing: No matter how things appear, God is in control and we can trust Him.
I’m not for one moment minimizing the importance of each one of us using our voice and our vote for good. We must. But then we rest in the goodness and sovereignty of almighty God, who will always have the last word.
“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning (repenting) and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15 (ESV)