Ruby is the most vocal dog I've ever had, and also the clearest communicator. It isn't that she barks excessively (animals on T.V. not withstanding), but that she has a range of barks, whines, grunts and growls that I am still learning to interpret after more than two years together. As i read in bed last night, she was growling in her sleep and it sounded like her 'play initiating' growl rather than her 'something unfamiliar in my environment' growl which I also heard last night on our walk when she saw the silhouette of the new horseshoe pit enclosures in the dark. Was she dreaming about playing with her sister or one of her corgi friends?
Earlier in the evening, she scratched at the coat closet door where her tug toys are kept and exclaimed with her medium-pitched, pleading bark "we haven't played yet tonight!" Some might call this 'demand barking.' I call it a Border Jack keeping me honest. There's no short-changing Ruby out of her nightly tug game. Even if she lets me slide before dinner, when 8 o'clock rolls around she is ready for the Tug-a-gator or the Kong Wubba to be liberated from their closet confines.
Some of my favorite sounds in the Ruby repertoire are her soft little 'oofs' - her closed-mouth grunt-barks, which put me in mind of a toddler reaching for something they want on a too-high counter-top. This is Ruby's imploring request, not only for food, but for the living room window to be opened so she can watch for rabbits, for her ball to be fished out from underneath the sofa, or for anything else she wants. I usually understand exactly what she means. I think it's fairly polite and irresistibly adorable. She was 'oofing' at me last night from the bed after I got out of the bath - curled up with Big Sister and the ancient black cat, she wanted the whole family together so that she could go to sleep.
At the opposite end of the range are her shrill, excited barks that are used for the aforementioned animals on T.V., those unbearable few seconds between when she knows I'm about to open the tug toy door and when I toss the toy to her, when she sees one of the gazillion rabbits that exist solely to taunt her on our townhome complex grounds. These are not my favorite barks, high-pitched and frantic, and these are the barks to be countered with a reminder cue, "shh" or "quiet" before I will let her have the coveted toy or chase the insubordinate rabbit (on leash).
Along with her voice, Ruby's eyes and ears communicate a diverse array of emotions. In her most common state of hyper-vigilance, Ruby's foxy ears stand straight up, vibrating vertically with inquisition. When she is tired or uncertain, her ears slide to a more horizontal position and somehow look even bigger. When she is sleepy and affectionate, her ears lay straight back making her look like an entirely different dog. Sometimes one ear folds onto itself at a comical angle - I haven't quite figured that one out yet.
That brings me to Ruby's beautiful, intelligent, extraordinary eyes. 'The Look' endeared me to her Petfinder profile that spoke of a deep understanding, a piercing entreaty, and a spark of mischief. Sometimes it feels like Ruby's amber-green eyes look straight into my soul. The intensity with which she stares at me is both flattering and unnerving. There are layers of meaning in her gaze, and I think we've only begun to scratch the surface of the potential of non-verbal communication with animals. As this article states - dogs keep the conversation going constantly, the ultimate optimists. I love learning Ruby's language, hearing what she has to say, meeting her needs and increasing our bond through call and response with all of our senses.