Its Bite Couldn’t Be Worse Than Its Bark

Walking is great for the mind and the body. Its combination of physical exercise and contemplation is a wonderful aid to serenity.

Except for the dogs.

I know, I know, dogs who bark at pedestrians are just doing what dogs are supposed to do, guarding home and hearth from suspicious strangers. But protective intentions or not, after a while enough gets to be enough.

There are two Shelties down the street from us. No matter that we walk past their yard nearly every day and they should have figured out by now that we’re harmless. They still have yipping conniptions every time we go by. They dash back and forth along the fence, jumping up and down, shoving each other out of the way in order to claim first rights of abuse, and shrieking threats to our lives and insults to our ancestors. Obviously, these two ladies don’t have enough to do. We’ve seriously considered trying to sneak a few sheep into their yard some dark night.

In New Mexico, where we’re visiting right now, it isn’t Shelties, it’s Chihuahuas. They seem to be popular here, perhaps because it’s closer to their place of origin or they’re suited to the warmer climate. Or maybe it’s just because they get so many miles per ounce of dog food. It can’t be because they’re cheap. An ad in the local paper this week advertised Chihuahua puppies for $150 to $300 each. That’s a lot of money, especially figured by the pound.

Whatever the reason, plenty of these bug-eyed little yippers live here. We’ll be out for our daily walk, minding our own business like the health-minded good citizens we are, and every few blocks another pint-sized property protector dashes out of its yard. In a frantic falsetto, it threatens to tear us limb from limb—at least below the ankles.

Usually a few sharp words are enough to send them scurrying for home. But one day we encountered a little dog who seemed determined to chase us all the way home. After half a block or so, besides being fed up with his yapping, I started to worry that the obnoxious little guy would run us out of his neighborhood so far he’d get lost. I turned on him, stamped my foot a couple of times, and shouted. He turned tail and ran.

We continued our walk in peace—for a few minutes. Before we’d reached the next corner, there was a new outbreak of shrill barking behind us. There was our original pursuer, back in full yip. And right behind him was a second Chihuahua—slightly bigger, a little bit louder, and a whole lot scruffier. If he had been a couple of feet taller, he surely would have been named “Brutus.” My foot-stamping hadn’t scared Junior off; it had merely sent him after backup.

I suppose we should be grateful to be run after and barked at by guard dogs whose only threat is to our eardrums. Still, there’s something a bit insulting about it. Apparently we’re so harmless that Chihuahuas are enough to take care of the likes of us; the Rottweilers and pit bulls have more important things to do.

As I was out walking this morning, I glanced up to see a Chihuahua coming at me from across the street. It wasn’t barking yet, but it was pelting toward me as fast as its four-inch legs could carry it, a look of determination on its brow. I braced myself. It came nearer, and nearer—and ran right on by. Apparently it was late for an urgent appointment somewhere behind me.

Embarrassment is being barked at and chased by a dog no higher than your ankles. True humiliation, though, is being ignored by one.

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