I’ve written about Dude before. He’s the mongrel of unknown heritage who moved from California to Georgia over a year ago. Dude and Louise, a streetwise chihuahua, shared a house with our son in Los Angeles. Louise and Seth now have their own place at the farm. Dude lives with Jane and me.
Seth’s back yard in Los Angeles was enclosed with a high wooden fence, but Dude barked too much to be left there. Neighbors on both sides had regular sleeping habits that the big dog did not fully appreciate. The animal shelter said if Dude came back again, he wouldn’t be leaving on a leash. They had a three-strike rule and Seth had tossed the third pitch.
The first challenge we faced was convincing Dude to remain inside our fenced yard. It’s a nice area which has been home to three other fine dogs, all now happily roaming in the land of golden fire hydrants. Libby, Freckles, and Lilly were perfectly content with their grassed playground, luxury garage suite, and 24-hour buffet. But not the Dude. He kept climbing the chain-link fence and showing up at our back door.
It took several months for Dude to understand how good he has it and stop looking for escape routes. Except for occasional barking that was slightly beyond the norm, all was well. Lately, however, he’s reverted to his California ways. He barks non-stop for hours, mostly at night. I don’t think he’s awakening our neighbors, but I’m afraid to ask.
Our current troubles can be traced back to December 8th of last year. Without any warning, Dude suddenly appeared to be dying. Rather than going with us for his usual afternoon walk, he struggled to even stand. Jane and Seth coaxed him into the cab of my pickup and took him to the vet.
An x-ray showed a mass in his stomach and internal bleeding. The vet said he’d probably live a couple of weeks. They discussed putting him down, but Dude apparently understood the conversation. He perked up and trotted out the door with pain pills, steroids, and a new attitude.
That was almost a year ago. Maybe it’s an answer to prayer. Or it could be that what showed up on the x-ray wasn’t what it seemed. Either way, I’m beginning to think we shouldn’t have told Dude how much we loved him. He seems to be taking advantage of it.
His barking has occasionally been annoying but was for good canine causes – motorcycles, delivery trucks, or anything with a loud muffler. In early September, however, Dude transitioned to all-night bark parties. He has shown a special affinity for trains.
A railroad track is about a mile from our home, with mostly open fields between us. We often hear the soft rumble of trains at night, a distant noise that’s rather conducive to sleep. But Dude has a different opinion. He hears the trains long before they reach here and well after they’re gone. He barks the whole time, then celebrates running them off. I’ve tried to quieten him but had no success.
My first technique was to open the back door and gently reason with him. “Dude,” I would say calmly while looking into his big innocent eyes, “do you remember what we talked about? Remember how I told you that we like to sleep at night? We’d really appreciate your help. You’re a good boy.”
Two weeks later I switched to my firm no-nonsense voice. “Dude! Knock it off! I’m tired of all that barking. I don’t want to hear another peep out of you! Don’t make me come out here again!”
Then finally, I stumbled across something that worked. When I shined a flashlight at him through our bedroom window, he retreated to his quarters. Apparently, his past included a bad experience with a beam of light. I hated to remind him of that but was thankful for a decent night’s sleep. Sadly, it took him less than a week to figure out my ploy. The flashlight trick now only buys a few minutes of peace.
Thinking music might soothe him, I tuned his radio to Willie’s Roadhouse for some classic country. It seemed to be working until they played “Folsom Prison Blues.” When Johnny Cash sang, “I hear the train a coming,” Dude howled along. He didn’t stop until Conway Twitty said, “Hello Darling.”
I don’t know what else to do, so that’s why I’m writing this column. A solution that doesn’t involve shocking, shooting, or bringing him inside is what we’re looking for. You can call most any time, even at night. If there’s a train rolling through Coley Crossing, we’ll probably be awake.