Vocalization is a key way that dogs communicate. Moans, growls and howls are among the noises that dogs make, but the first sound that comes to mind when most people think of dogs is barking. So, why do dogs bark? Barking is how dogs vocally communicate to each other and to us about everything from a squirrel on the back fence to wanting their dinner.
Because dog barking is about communication, dogs also bark to try to impact the behavior of something or someone, like when they want you to throw the ball. Dogs may also bark when they are in pain or afraid in an attempt to keep something scary away. Did you know that dogs around the world bark differently? Psychology Today has a great list of the way dogs bark in 60 different languages! Dogs “hau-hau” in Arabic, “blaf-blaf” in Dutch and “gau-gau” in Vietnamese.
Dogs bark if they are anxious, excited, bored and seeking attention, or in response to other dogs. Researchers at Eotvos Lorand University, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, Hungary, studied the way that people interpret and understand dog vocalizations. They found that low-pitched vocalizations tend to indicate that a dog feels threatened or upset, whereas high-pitched sounds tend to mean a dog wants to engage with someone or something. However, long, high-pitched sounds might mean a dog is anxious or fearful.
The researchers also discovered that people understand the tone of a dog’s bark — similar to the way we notice different tones in a person’s voice. The study states, “people use the same rules to work out how their dog is feeling as they do to determine the emotional state of other humans.”
Another study by Csaba Molnar, ethologist at Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University explored dogs and barking from the angle that the behavior is very common in domesticated dogs, but infrequent or nonexistent in wild canines. This research shows that not only are humans skilled at understanding the meaning or context behind different dog barks, but dogs who are playing exhibit the most varied types of barks.
I share my home with three dogs and I can recognize each of their individual barks. If you have multiple dogs, it’s likely that you can do the same, or that you can tell your dog’s bark apart from the barks of other dogs playing together in the park. Different breeds of dogs have different tones to their barks from high pitched to deep, often related to their overall size. For example, my Chihuahua mix has a higher-pitched bark than my Newfoundland. Charlie, a Golden Retriever in Australia, holds the Guinness World Record for loudest bark.
Some dog breeds were actually bred to bark. From herding, to flushing out game for hunters, to alerting people to danger or the presence of intruders, many dogs like Beagles, German Shepherd Dogs and Shetland Sheepdogs were all bred in part for their barks, which doesn’t necessarily make them great apartment dogs. My first dog was a Lhasa Apso, which is one of the world’s most ancient breeds. Lhasa Apso means “bark lion sentinel dog.” Don’t let their small size fool you, these feisty little dogs were bred to alert humans to any intruders in the Tibetan monasteries. The Basenji, another ancient breed, is known as the barkless dog. However, Basenjis do make a variety of vocalizations, including a very unique yodel.
Think you’re pretty good at identifying different dog barks? Check out this fun game created by The New York Times, which recorded the barks of different show dogs. Try to match the bark the dog that made it!
Excessive barking can be an aggravating behavioral issue for canine parents. A dog who barks a lot is also challenging to navigate with neighbors, roommates or landlords who don’t appreciate incessant dog barking. Have a dog that barks a lot or inappropriately? Here are a few ways to combat inappropriate dog barking:
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Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author. Her novels have been honored by organizations ranging from the Lambda Literary Foundation to the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Trainer, and assists with dog agility classes. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix and a Newfoundland puppy, along with two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com.
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