Thursday, July 1, 2010

When He Doesn't Speak...

"Have you ever walked outside and just listen to the sounds? Try to determine what each sound is; a dog barking down the road, birds calling out in the distance, faint sounds of crickets, leaves blowing from the wind or the sounds of creatures slyly moving across the forest floor. Listen hard for the sounds that aren't so easy to determine. Each sound is like a sheet of data coming in to be processed. The sounds around us are often more important than our vision. Vision tells just half of the story, and I am sure that we all know that there can be dangerous repercussion from such missing details. Listening takes practice, and often enough, if we don't use it we lose it."

Our goats and chickens are not always in the direct line of sight. We have come to depend on our sense of hearing. Being familiar with the normal sounds of our animals verses their abnormal calls or behavior during moments of danger. Although I do rely on many of my own senses to eradicate problems on the farm, I have come to depend on our beloved dog(s) to locate them.

Sammy, taught me that the silence often speaks louder than words. A few years ago Sam sat down at the back door and wouldn't budge other than when I would let him out. But then he would just turn around and sit at the door wanting back in. This behavior continued throughout the day and into the nights. If we sat down on the couch he would sit at our feet and intently stare. If we were sleeping he would sit by the bed occasionally pawing at our covers until we would wake. When we would finally get up he would trot to the back door. We would let him back out and again he would turn around and sit on the steps to be let back into the house. He never barked. Sam drove Lee and I absolutely mad by his confusing but persistent behavior.

Two days later, Lee and Sam took a stroll around the yard. Sammy walked over to the the edge of the fence at the corner of the house. He sat down. Lee called to him but he wouldn't budge. Upon Lee's investigation, he found a litter of puppies and their momma hunkered down by the corner of the air unit. Sam never barked but he used his silence to communicate with us. From that day forward we always investigate Sam's hunches. His body language speaks a thousand words.

This morning Toby and Hannah (the rat terrorist) barked continually at the southeast corner of the fence. I walked out onto the back deck to investigate the ruckus. I knew it wasn't a false alarm when I saw Sam sitting quietly in the middle of the chaos with his ears erect. He was studying the woods line towards the front of the house.

I hooked my good ole' boy to a lead and we went to investigate. He walked me all the way down the hill to the edge of the woods line that met up to the old country road. Sam stood proud with his ears erect. I stood beside him studying the woods and fields across the road. The cool breeze blew by chilling my bare arms and tickling my nose with the scent of freshly cut hay. I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. Horses stood in the field, cows grazing on the adjoining pasture, in the dead oak tree on the far side of our gravel drive was a murder of crows. Everything seemed normal... peaceful... tranquil.

"Sam, are your ears failing you," I questioned. Sam looked back over his shoulder to acknowledge my voice. Excitedly he pounded his front paws at the ground. I read into his persistent body language. "Ok boy, lets just listen a minute".

My eyes gazed across the distance as I scanned the sounds around me. I heard dogs barking in the distance, song birds singing, crows crowing, snorts from the quarter horse in the neighbors meadow. I then heard something else but it took a minute for the oddity of the sound to register... I listened for the sound to repeat. Twice now, like a large stone thumping the ground. I walked as my senses took the lead. Focused as my sight and hearing came together as a symphony of one. It was then that I caught a sly movement out of the corner of my eye. I almost missed the trespassing dogs quietly moving up the creek bank to the far right side of the woods line.

"GET OUT OF HERE, GO HOME," I screamed.

Sam became anxious at my tone. He bounced left right and then lunged forward at the trespassers. The dogs quickly ran, sliding in gravel as they reach the edge of the road, looking back only once to make sure they weren't being pursued. I calmed Sam with rub behind the ears and soft spoken words, "Lets get home, boy". We walked back to the house where I again praised him, "Good job Sam. You saved the chickens (for now at least)".

I walked back into the house, grabbed my second cup of coffee. I gazed out of the window into the back yard to see that Sam had found his favorite sunny spot in the yard to rest. I felt reassured that the danger had passed.

I returned to my chair that sat in front of my dusty computer. Thoughtfully my fingers began to tap out praises of this amazing dog that once again saved the day.....


  1. Love this post. I truly "listen" to what the earth is saying and singing. Lately it has been the wind that comes up from the canyon. Living on top of the ridge this wind sings a song that I have never heard before. I am more one with nature sounds than tech or human sounds.

  2. Hey Leigh,
    One of the best posts by anyone that I have read in a long time. I can relate to this so much by what the bog monster tells me without words.

  3. Listen to your animals. They have senses we don't have. My dogs can be laying in the house, supposedly sound asleep, but they have one ear tuned to the chickens at all times. Always some sounds coming from the chickens, clucks and purrs and cackling when an egg is laid; but one unusual note and the dogs want out RIGHT NOW! I forget if you keep a horse, but I always pay attention to my horse when I am riding, especially her ears. I don't know how many times she has shown me an animal, deer, bear, coyote etc that I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

  4. It does my heart good to read such a wonderful story of you and Sam. What a sweet boy and great watch dog.

  5. Way to go, Sam! That's awesome. Animals are so smart. Sometimes it's freaky.

    When I read the first paragraph it reminded me of how I've been a fool here for over a year now. I live in downtown Des Moines. Basically the only sounds outside are cars, motorcycles, sirens and church bells. At night, there is always a screechy bird noise. Every night. I thought it was great. Here I am in the middle of the city but I can still hear the birds.

    Then Scott's friend came over and said, "Oh you can hear that recording from your place?" "What recording?" "They play noises from a screech owl to keep birds from nesting. Dang. That was a bummer and now all I can hear is how it ALWAYS sounds the same.

  6. Diane,
    Thank you. I could just imagine the sounds from the canyon, I bet it's amazing!

    That is by far one of the greatest compliments that I have ever had. The pressures on now! Are you any closer to getting the bog monster a companion? ;)

    Bob Mc,
    You reminded me of when we had horses... I could always count on them to predict the weather... we could always tell how bad the storm would be by the way they ran the fields.

    I'm glad that I was able to lift your spirits! I know that you deeply understand and appreciate the relationship between human and dog. :)

    Thats hysterical! You should hang a bird feeder outside the window to counteract the recording. My daughter once made the little pines cones painted with peanut butter then rolled in bird seed. She tied a little ribbon around the end to hang in the trees. The birds love that stuff!

    Just a thought...
    One of my friends always had birds that wanted to nest under their covered porch... they hung up a rubber snake in their favorite spot. They swear by the rubber snake trick and it allows the birds to comfortably nest close by with out being a nuisance. The draw back... Im startled everytime I walk past it! haha

  7. Ernie can be a bit of a hyper border collie some days...but when I'm working and he wants something he starts trying to climb on me. no barking and I'm not his master, my husband is...just starts nosing and bumping and then I know... so, I'm a little slow and lose track. :o)

  8. Karen Sue,
    I read an article a few years ago about Border Collie's having one of the highest levels of intelligence in the dog world! Ernie sounds like a very smart boy and stays true to his breed. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Such amazing writing in this piece and I enjoyed reading it quite a bit. Everyone could use a dog like Sam...take my neighbors dog for example. There dog hasn't stopped barking since they moved in a year ago. I swear that thing barks at wind.

  10. Coloradocasters,
    Thank you so much, I am glad you liked it. We also have our far share of the "yappers". Toby and the Terrorist drive us bonkers some days. I cut them a little slack though, I think that they are just trying too hard to prove themselves as fit as Sam. But yeah, I know ALL about the dogs that bark at the wind. :)

  11. our dogs have saved our chickens, cows and pigs countless times. we have feral packs of dogs that torture our peninsula. Astrid, Ianto and Jack freely patrol our fence lines with great passion. they can easily hop our fences but would never.

    the best part of this post is that it reveals your understanding of your dog which makes him all the more powerful tool.

  12. I've loved reading about this. Sam seems like quite a character indeed.