All About the Bark

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If you have a Jack Russell, then you know that many of them love a good bark. The JRT is one of the most vocal breeds out there. In fact, Vetstreet’s reader survey put the Jack Russell at number three in the most talkative dog breeds category.

But what’s in a bark? It’s not just noise. In fact, the behavior can have many different meanings. And it can be a lot more complex than one might think.

Why Dogs Bark

Both puppies and wolf cubs bark to communicate. Interestingly, wolf cubs outgrow this behavior, exchanging barking for howling, once they grow up. But adult dogs bark — and some of them, as we know, bark a lot.

Different people have different theories about why this is so. Some believe that domesticated animals like cats and dogs retain certain behaviors of juvenile animals in order to make them more attractive to humans. Others believe that domestication reinforced the barking behavior. One of dogs’ historic jobs was to serve as an alarm system for humans, so barking was encouraged and bred into them as part of domestication.

Either way, whether your dog is Sir Barks-a-Lot or only brings out the big guns for special occasions, there’s a lot more to it than just noise.

Different Kinds of Barking

If you’ve ever listened to your dog, then you can probably tell they have different barks for different kinds of communication. A playful bark, for example, may sound fast, high-pitched, and excited. But when it comes to the mail carrier, it may be a lower-pitched, throatier sound.

Scientists have identified two basic kinds of barks, although dogs use these two kinds of barks to cover a variety of communications needs.

You’re not wrong in thinking they’re different.

First, there’s the warning bark. It starts as a low-pitched rumble that rises to a deep-chested bark and then, eventually a howl. This kind of barking is a dominance display. It’s an aggressive bark that’s a response to a threat. This is many dogs’ response to a strange sound in the night, or an intruder on the doorstep.

Then there’s the attention-grabbing bark. This bark tends to be higher pitched and faster. If your dog is excited — playtime, for example — this bark may grow faster and higher quite quickly. It can also be an alarm bark, meant to draw your attention to a possible threat that it’s your job to deal with.

A Barking Translator?

In 2002, Japanese inventors Keita Satoh, Dr. Matsumi Suzuki and Dr. Norio Kogure invented the BowLingual canine translator (and later, the MeowLingual cat translator). This device uses voice print technology to analyze a dog bark, and categorize it in terms of one of six emotional responses: happy, sad, on-guard, needy, frustrated, and assertive. The analysis is displayed on a hand-held unit.

The unit received mixed reviews from professionals and consumers. However, the inventors did win a 2002 Ig Nobel Prize (a parody of the Nobel Prize — the Ig Nobel is for devices “that make us laugh, and then make us think”) for promoting peace between species.

Problem Barking

Sometimes, though, barking can be a problem. Sometimes dogs bark excessively, especially if they’re alone. And this can be distressing not only for the owners, but for neighbors and family as well.

What can you do about it?

The first step is to figure out why. Dogs may bark because of anxiety, loneliness, or boredom. There may also be an underlying medical condition, such as chronic pain, or a brain disease. It could also be a compulsive behavior.

Once you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to work on a solution. For medical conditions or compulsive behavior, a trip to the vet is in order.

For behavior-related barking, once you identify the cause, address it. If your dog is bored, try to give them more opportunities for mental — and physical — stimulation. If they’re lonely, and you’re gone for large periods of time, Doggy Day Care can help. And if they’re anxious, then behavioral training is the first line of defense to get your pup feeling more confident and safe.

What’s in a Bark?

Sometimes a bark is just a bark. But most of the time, your dog is trying to tell you something. And you might be surprised at what they’re saying!

Featured Image: CC0 by hansaldenhoven, via Pixabay

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