Why do dogs bark?

Reggie is not a vocal dog. It’s a little weird; he doesn’t regularly bark, growl, or whine. I know I’ve discussed it in other posts- his lack of vocalizations make me overreactive in play situations when vocalizations are common because I’m not used to them.

He barks at the mailman. Couldn’t be more of a cliche but he gets nutty when the mailman comes to the door (just the mailman, no one else). So, why do dogs bark? Why are some dog barks more ferocious than others? Let’s see.

The Anatomy of the Bark
dog_mouth_editThe structure of the canine throat is similar to that of a human. According to The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare, the vocal chords- which are contained in the larynx- are more plastic than a human’s, and allow for greater vibrations and subtlety of sound. You probably can tell the difference between your dog’s “throw the ball!” bark and “there’s a stranger!” bark. These slight vibrational variances create an entire language.
The length of the larynx, and consequently vocal chords, make a sound impact too. A St. Bernard has a large, booming, deep bark. A Pug has a short, sharp, staccato bark. The vocal chords of the St. Bernard are longer and have a longer vibration time, whereas the Pug has very short vocal chords. Think of it like a dog with a long or big neck equals a big or deep bark, and small or short neck equals tiny or high pitched barks.

Types of Barks
You know your dog and can probably tell the difference between his or her barks. Dogs bark for attention, boredom or frustration, territoriality, playfulness, or health issues. A bored dog is like a bored kid- they can be destructive, annoying, and will get that energy out one way or another. My mailman issue is a common one and an issue of territoriality. I need to teach Reggie that the mailman is ok. When Reggie is outside and the mailman comes to the house he is fine (although the mailman is not fine, he is terrified). Reggie’s dad has done a very good job of fostering a good Reggie-mailman relationship.

Other Vocalizations
Dogs are ancestrally and genetically linked to wolves. However, only 3% of wolves’ vocalizations are barking. Wolves howl. Through the domestication process, barking became the main form of vocalization and howling less. There are also breed considerations- you may never train barking out of a Beagle or howling out of Basenji.
Scientists have recorded dog barks and growls and played them for dogs, and yes- they are communicating different things. One such experiment, as relayed in The Genius of Dogs, involved two dogs playing. Dog A and Dog B are both barking and growling. Dog A takes Dog B’s toy. Dog B growls but there is no incident and play continues. Scenario two is feeding. Dog A and Dog B are eating and Dog A tries to get Dog B’s food and Dog B growls. Dog A backs away. The growls in the two scenarios are clearly different and communicating different messages. The follow up of that experiment was that they recorded those growls and played them for different dogs at feeding time. With the “play” growl there was no reaction; with the “feeding” growl the other dog backed away!

I have a good handle on Reggie’s whines (seizure indicator), but I am still learning his growls and barks. He is not a talker, and while I am largely grateful for that, it can be difficult sometimes. Maybe I should work on a “speak” command!

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2 thoughts on “Why do dogs bark?

  1. Now if we could only control the communications from human beings with a single command! 🙂 always interesting stuff, Jen. I like your new website design – it is very clean!

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