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Dogs barks, growls, or talking? Do you know the difference?

What do your dog’s auditory communications mean?  And what classes of these are there?

Before we delve into that, we should be mindful that dogs communicate by “visual communication by modifying different parts of their body; in tactile communication; and also in auditory and olfactory communication, with vocalizations and body odours, respectively.” Ref 1

And in fact, the oldest breed dogs, the ones closest to wolves still rely on visual comms more as much if not more than sound because they still have all of the unmodified parts of their body.  Many breeds we now have either have hair over their faces, smaller tails or even upright ears that reduce their ability to communicate by body parts.  This might have played an important role in stepping up the audible communication side that just used to be a smaller supplement.

This is why domesticated dogs have had to learn new ways to communicate with other dogs and humans. While visual communications (even the positioning of a dog’s body in reference to other dogs or humans or the way they express their mouth/ show teeth, is a massive part of their silent communications,

THIS article reviews some of the incredibly interesting and sophisticated ways that domestic dogs have learned to adapt their vocalising.  It’s not ALL about the bark.

1  The dog bark

Not all barks are the same, they can carry a lot more information than originally thought.

“Barks are short, explosive, and repetitive signals, with a highly variable acoustic structure (dominant frequency range between 160 and 2630 Hz), differing between breeds and even between individuals

They are generally used in short-range interactions and in several behavioural contexts, like greeting, warning/alerting, calling for attention, or during play. Moreover, barking is an allomimetic behaviour, that is, a group activity in which several individuals bark in unison with other conspecifics, mirroring and stimulating each other.”  Ref 1

This should put an end to a common complaint around the neighbourhood of ‘what is that dog barking at’ or that they are just bored. It seems there is much more complexity one of the dog’s main vocalisations, the bark – than many people seem to think.

“Wolf-related breeds, for example, Shar-pei, Chow-Chow or Basenji, have a very rare propensity to bark, whereas other breeds present a specific type of barking, such as hunting dogs”   REF 1

What you should know about this statement is the “wolf related breeds” they speak of are also called ANCIENT breeds of dogs.  They typically go back many thousands of years, where as many modern breeds are 300 years old at most.    Here is an article we prepared earlier:  https://www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au/articles-dog-walking-pet-sitting/86-ancient-dog-breeds.html

The ancient breeds are also often the hardest to train, but often the most obedient when they have been trained. While this training issue is exactly the same for hunting dog breeds (like GSPs), many hunting breeds were originally selected for their independence.

The idea was that a hunter should be able to let his hunting dog off lead and they would just do the hunt virtually unsupervised. Noting that the dog breed was then purposely selected, evolved and trained to bark incessantly when they had found or cornered the prey. You might notice that this is often a trait that gets them into trouble in quiet neighbourhoods in more modern times.

“Barks carry various information about the signaller’s physical characteristics, familiarity, and inner state  allowing dogs to differentiate not only between barks produced by different individuals in the same context , but also between the different contexts in which they are produced” REF 1

For instance:

1  dogs emit longer and lower frequency barks when a stranger approaches them

2  Dogs make high pitched barks mainly in isolation situations

DOG GROWLS

atlas and diego vizsla dog barking While barks are often identified as short explosive sounds, Growls are “low-frequency broadband vocalizations are mainly produced during agonistic interactions as a warning or threatening signal or during play interactions.”

While people often have to put together a lot of visual cues around the bark, like stance of the dog, what its face, ears and tail are doing, GROWLS are universally perceived as a threat response.

The following might now seem obvious, but unless tested and recorded, and tests reproduced, statements and understanding of growls would remain anecdotal.  The authors of the paper say that “dogs’ growls have a context-dependent acoustics structure; in particular, its temporal features, fundamental frequency, and formant dispersions differ between play and aggressive growls, produced to threaten a stranger or to guard a bone.”  REF 1

But the kicker here is, that humans can often understand the nature of varying growl sounds when playing with their own dog, than other dogs can understand about that dog’s growls.  Again, the missing visual cues due to changes in the dog’s bodies that humans caused to evolve, muddles these signals to other dogs and removes context for other dogs to fully understand.

For instance, “growls produced during play with humans (short and high-pitched), ….all “play vocalizations”, which also include barks and huffing …. are less distinguishable for dogs compared with those recorded in disturbing and isolation situations.” REF 1

And of course,   other major dog sound categories are:

  • Whines – indicators of stressful arousal but also greeting and attention-seeking behaviours
  • howls, made to maintain group cohesion;
  • groans and yelps, signs of acute distress and acute pain,
  • grunts, which are considered as pleasure-related signals

CONCLUSIONS

Much of the recent dog experiments have been to better understand the nuances of dog sounds, ever since it was discovered that “canines can extract information about the emotional state of other dogs from their vocalizations” REF 1

The other half of this equation is what dogs understand about us.  “They are able to learn up to 200 words’ meaning and they link it with the object they refer to.” Ref 1

We are a long way away from that mythical piece of machinery that converts dog barks into succinct human words, but getting the fundamentals right, so that we can understand our own dogs as well as other dogs barks better has many personal benefits we can use right now.

Reference

REF 1  Communication in Dogs   by   Marcello Siniscalchi

Serenella D’Ingeo,  ,Michele Minunno   and   Angelo Quaranta   Department of Veterinary Medicine, Section of Behavioral Sciences and Animal Bioethics, University of Bari “Aldo Moro”, 70121 Bari, Italy

Animals 2018, 8(8), 131;   doi.org/10.3390/ani8080131

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