Dog Days of Summer: Barking

Adapted from pages 108-109 of The Dog:

The most striking difference between the vocal repertoires of wolves and dogs appears to be the predominant habit of barking in the dog. While wolves emit short bouts or single barks, mostly at a young age and during agonistic encounters, most companion dogs are known to be “barkers” and there are several contexts where dogs bark rather abundantly.

One theory about the evolutionary origin and function of this typical dog vocalization claims that the contagious barking of neighborhood dogs upon the arrival of an intruder (the mail carrier, for example, or somebody with a dog on a leash walking along the street) is similar to the harassing of predators in species such as corvid birds.

Dogs barking.

Dogs also bark during play. This feature is a new addition to their vocal repertoire, as
wild-living canids, such as wolves, jackals,
and foxes, do not bark while playing. Photo credit: George Lee, Shutterstock.

Another hypothesis suggests that, since domestication, dogs have shared their social space with humans, and this coexistence paved the way to new communicative interactions, including vocal signaling. Thus, barks became the type of vocalization through which dogs could convey several kinds of messages toward their human audience. The highly variable and repetitive barks of dogs show a much broader acoustic range than wolf barks and, according to recent experimental data, humans can attribute accurate contextual and affective meaning to dog barks.

However, barking is not a solely human directed vocalization: Other dogs can also decipher information about the barking individual’s identity and emotions by listening to its bark.

Disregarding the elements such as syntax, symbolism, and size of vocabulary that hallmark human language, dog vocalizations seemingly lack one other important feature that makes human conversations so meaningful—the referentiality. Dogs do not vocalize about things that are independent of their own inner state or qualities. In principle, the acoustic signals of a dog indicate its internal mental state and its indexical attributes (size, age, sex, identity). These are equally informative for humans and other dogs as well.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< The Dog Days of Summer: Sniffing & SmellingDog Days of Summer: Communication & Ritualization >>