Why dogs bark
Barking or vocalizing is an excellent example of a canine behavior that is complex and is best interpreted within the context of the circumstances. Dogs have different types of barks, which they use in different contexts, in which the response of the humans present plays an important role. There are certain analyses, which show that most humans are able to identify the difference between a dog who is barking in a fight and a dog who is barking when a stranger is close to his/her house. In addition, dogs do not bark all they time they are under a certain stimulus, the frequency and tone of the bark is part of the message that they are trying to convey.
Dog’s Vocal Signs
Howling. It is an attempt to locate someone, perhaps you or other dog. When you leave for work, it’s very possible that your dog howls in an effort to get you back. Have you noticed that when one dog one dog starts howling, many others join in? This is an instinctive behavior.
Growling. This means “back off.” You’ll see a dog growl when another dog gets close to his/her food. Your dog may growl at a stranger or at you when you try to take his toy away. The most dangerous situation is when a dog is in an aggressive stance but not barking. One study examined growls in 3 contexts (play, when guarding a bone and when approached by a threatening stranger) and the found that play growls differed from the other two growls.
Grunting. Dogs use this signal to indicate that they want something. Dogs also grunt when they are greeting family members, friends or other dogs.
Whimpering. A whimpering dog is sending the signal that he/she is anxious, afraid or hurt. Some dogs use whimpering to get humans’ attention so you should try to avoid reinforcing this kind of behavior.
Whining. This indicates frustration. They are actually complaining about something.
Barking. Dogs have different types of barks (See more information below). When a dog is excited or happy, you will hear a high-pitched bark and when a dog is aggressive or perceives a threat you will hear a low-pitched bark. Dogs use barking to get attention, to respond to other dogs, to indicate that they are happy, and to alert humans or other dogs that there might a threat or dangerous situation. Your dog may detect a sound that you cannot see or hear, such as a siren miles away or the neighbor’s cat hiding in the tree outside the window and start barking.
More About Barking
Barking is the most common vocal sign of dogs and since there are several types of barks we will discuss this vocal sign in more depth.
Barking can be involved in various behavioral conditions. Nuisance barking, even if the dog is behaving in a contextually appropriate manner, can cause the dog's death or relinquishment. Management of this type of situation should be appropriate and humane. An easy way of managing a barking dog is by trying to understand what he/she is saying. We should try to acknowledge the dog and provide the information requested. If the dog is not distressed and the human is present it is easy to acknowledge the dog. Your dog is probably trying to alert you, so try to see what is going on, why is he/she barking? You can use positive reinforcement here by rewarding your dog for being quiet.
Bark collars are not a good choice to control nuisance barking. These collars usually work by making a spraying sound and/or spray the dog with citronella solution, which can startle he dog and result in a traumatic experience. Dogs can learn to bark in a lower volume in order to avoid the collar from functioning. There are also electric shock collars, which cause pain. The problem with this collars is that they do not distinguish between a dog who is barking because he/she is happy or socializing, so they can stop all behaviors associated with barking, including normal, social behavior.
Research has shown negative, long-term effects of training with shock in German shepherd guard dogs. Early intervention, appropriate treatment and meeting the dog's needs are more humane solutions for dogs who are sharing with us information about how they perceive their world and its attendant discomforts.
About the author
Dr. Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz practices mixed animal veterinary medicine and she has a special interest in shelter medicine and animal welfare. Stephanie enjoys volunteering at local animal shelters, reading, writing and traveling.
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Farago T, Pongracz P, Range F, Viranyi Z, & Miklosi A. (2010). The bone is min': affective and referential aspects of dog growls. Anim Behav;79:917–925.
Overall, K.L. (2011). Understanding Barking In Dogs: Cause And Creative And Humane Treatment. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings.
Schilder MBH, van der Borg JAM. Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2004;85:319–334.