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The Listen Dog Blog

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What Is My Dog Saying?

By listendogtraining, Apr 2 2016 10:00AM

Dogs can be noisy companions, but if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s a quick guide on what all that noise really means…

The Five Barks:

1. The first type of sound dogs make is an infantile cry, whimper or whine. The effect of a pup’s cry on its mother is so powerful, that it triggers a release of oxytocin, which in turn affects her mammary glands by stimulating milk let-down. It has been noted however that dogs actually maintain the use of these infantile sounds throughout their adult lives, for the benefit of their human owners, since they illicit such a positive response of attention!

2. Warning sounds, such as barking or growling, are used by dogs to communicate that there is a potential threat or something that we should be aware of, or that we ourselves should not confront the dog. Rapid strings of three to four barks, repeated after a pause suggests that the dog is suspicious that there may be something nearby, but it is, as yet, unsure as to what it is. Continuously rapid barking is used to raise the alarm; the higher the rate of barking, the more concerned/excited the dog is, which may reflect how close the perceived danger is. Growling is very straightforward – it is a warning to stay away. Depending upon the dog’s body language it can be a growl induced by fear, and a dog’s attempt to defend itself and avoid a potential fight, it could be a possessive warning to stay away from the dog’s food or toy, or it can be a simple statement: come closer and I’m happy to attack you.

3. Eliciting/calling sounds like howling or attention-seeking barking are the dog’s way of trying to establish communication, or companionship. David Mech analysed vocal communication in wolves and noted what he called a ‘loneliness howl’, which some dogs who are suffering from separation anxiety have been known to produce. It is a call out for the other members of their ‘pack’ to respond or return. Howling is used by the wolf to coordinate and reunite the pack amongst other things. Attention-seeking barking is a similar sort of communication; this string of intermittent singular barks is a common response to being confined or left alone, and is again a call out for companionship.

4. The yelp is used in cases of withdrawal, distress or pain, and is easily recognisable.

5. Pleasure sounds, like the continuation of infantile sounds into a dog’s adulthood, seem to be reserved only for communication with humans, as opposed to other dogs and are most commonly a moan, which can sometimes mix with a high pitch whimper.

How Can I Tell Whether My Dog Is Warning, or Attention-Seeking?

Barking can signify an imminent threat, excitement and more; but attention-seeking barking and warning barking can often be differentiated by the frequency of the bark. Rapid midrange barking for example signifies the basic alarm call: someone or something is coming, and action should be taken to prepare. The rate of barking will likely increase as the dog becomes more excited and the threat is perceived to be getting closer, whilst a lowering pitch suggests the threat is now close.

Attention-seeking barking however is a little more sporadic-sounding, more like a string of individual barks, each punctuated by a pause. This is a dog’s way of calling out for companionship, whilst an individual bark with a slightly elongated and stuttered beginning, accompanied by a play bow is, of course, an invitation to play.

Remember How Dogs Really Communicate…

A dog’s voice is not at all its most powerful form of communication – if you really want to know how a dog is feeling, you are better off observing their body language. Fear-based aggression can typically be identified by a crouching stance (lowered body), a lowered head, ears flattened back towards the dogs head, a lowered tail, accompanied by snarling and exposed teeth.

It is also important to understand how a dog will read your body language, so that you can ensure you are sending the right signals out to any dog that you greet, particularly an unknown dog you are meeting for the first time.

For example, staring a dog straight in the face – which is obviously a polite way to greet another human – is in fact incredibly confrontational for a dog, and may well be interpreted as an indication that you are an aggressor. If the dog you are meeting with perceives you as a threat due to this ‘confrontational ‘ greeting, you may well find the dog preparing itself to attack, rather than happily accept a pat on the head!

The best approach to take when meeting a new dog is to remain calm, quiet and relaxed, and let the dog come to you. Allow it to sniff you, and if it wanders off, wait for the dog to decide to return to you, rather than follow after it. Once the dog itself decides to initiate contact, you can then greet it with some affection, although still try not to make direct eye-contact at first, to ensure you don’t accidently send any signals that may mistakenly be perceived as threatening.

So many dog bites could be easily prevented if we tried a little harder to communicate with dogs in their language, rather than punishing them when they fail to understand ours!

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