Fact: Barking can be good.
Fact: Barking can drive us nuts.
Dogs bark. It is part of their normal and natural communication and behavior. Dogs can bark for appropriate and good reasons, such as when strangers approach our house, they hear an odd noise, or they are herding sheep. Most of us want our dogs to be “watch dogs” and alert us to anything unusual. But dogs can also bark inappropriately. In two scientific surveys of dog owners, approximately 1/3 of them reported their dogs barked excessively. To control barking in our dogs, we first need to understand why they are barking.
Types of canine vocal communication
Dogs, as well as wolves use many types of vocalizations to communicate. This communication starts very early in life. Young puppies make a mewing-like sound when they are searching for food or warmth. Louder crying sounds are heard if the puppy is hurt or frustrated. As dogs get older, they make five main classes of sounds: howls, growls, grunts, whines, and barks. Each of these classes of sounds is used in different situations.
Howling is used as a means of long-range communication in many different circumstances. Howls are more often associated with wolves, but dogs howl too. Wolves often howl to signify territorial boundaries, locate other pack members, coordinate activities such as hunting, or attract other wolves for mating. Dogs may howl as a reaction to certain stimuli such as sirens.
Growling can occur in very different activities. It is used to threaten, warn, in defense, in aggression, and to show dominance. But growling is also used in play as well. By looking at the body posture we should be able to tell the difference. Growls during aggression are accompanied by a stare or snarl, and the growling dog often remains stationary. Play-growls occur in combination with a happy tail and a play bow to signal willingness to play. These dogs are often moving and jumping about to entice play.
Barking is another mode of communication that seems to be more common in dogs than other canine species. Again, this may be the result of human encouragement. Certain breeds have been bred to bark as part of their watchdog or herding duties. Barking is used to alert or warn others and defend a territory, to seek attention or play, to identify oneself to another dog, and as a response to boredom, excitement, being startled, lonely, anxious, or teased.