Sean Moncrieff: My dog is not my best friend. He’s actually really annoying

Human interaction is fraught enough, but interspecies communication is even worse

Communication is a tricky thing. It might not always be clear to ourselves what it is we want to say, or how exactly to say it. And even if we find the precise words, there’s no guarantee that the person hearing it will understand us in exactly the way we intend. We all interpret. We filter it through our emotions and expectations; of what we think the other person is “really” saying, sometimes based on previous conversations – sometimes based on our own neurosis, causing more misinterpretation. We can converse with other people while simultaneously having a conversation with ourselves.

And that’s for humans: for interspecies communication it’s both terribly simple and terribly complicated.

The dog has a few methods of expressing what he wants. First thing in the morning, when I arrive into the kitchen, he’ll stand by the back door. Which means he wants to go outside. Most of the time anyway. Sometimes I’ll open the door and he’ll remain there. He’ll eye me suspiciously, like going outside is some sort of trick. Or he’ll go outside, forget why he did that and want to come straight back in again.

If he wants to play, he’ll get one of his toys – a rubber pig or a string of plastic sausages – and sit on my foot while chewing it: an invitation that he seems to regard as irresistible. (It’s not.) If he wants attention or food or just to say hello, he jumps up on his hind legs in the standard doggy fashion.


Dinosaur larynx

But what’s puzzling is the barking. He’s a small dog, but he seems to have developed the larynx of a dinosaur. His bark is thunderous and cranky: it comes out in single shrieks or rat-a-tat combinations. And he barks at everything: the doorbell, if anyone enters or leaves the house. Sounds from the street. Planes. Birds. Leaves. Stones. Hairdryers. The washing machine. Mowing the lawn involves an hour of yelping. His favourite adversary is a bucket. He can bark at it for hours. The bucket maintains a stony, Buddha-like silence.

Sometimes, you can see the protect-the-pack logic of it. But mostly it makes no sense at all. He barks at nothing. He randomly barks and his ears go down: like he knows it’s irritating but he just can’t help himself; like the bark is the monster in the Alien movie and he can’t stop it bursting out.

He's still a puppy, so it could be a charge of testosterone. He's lost his early roundness and replaced it with muscularity. Now he's all shoulders. Herself says he looks like Joe Pesci. He's a mafia hitdog who you better not look at in the wrong way. Except you can look at him any way you want. The barking may be a pathetic attempt to distract from his overwhelming cowardice. He barks at things and runs away from them.

Turn your back

The mystery is what he's trying to communicate with all this noise. He's not protecting anyone. Most of the time, no one answers. And it doesn't seem to be making him happy. Or anyone else in our house. Dog training is as woke as anything else these days, so when he makes a racket, a kick in the arse is tantamount to some horrific human rights abuse. According to Dr Google, you're supposed to turn your back to them until they burst into tears and apologise. Or something like that.

I’ll come clean. We tell him to shut up. He knows what we’re saying. A lot of the time, he’ll even stop barking. For 30 seconds or so.

We’re hoping that he might calm down eventually. But we’ve had to accept that our newest family member, cute as he is, can be annoying a lot of the time.

Yes, there it is: dog lovers filtering words through their own expectations. Ah yes, but you love him really. Ah yes, but he’s still your best friend. Nope. He’s really annoying.