Puppies are not born barking, just as children are not born chattering. They learn their voice and then they learn to use it, partly from others, partly from the effect that behavior has. With the litter of eleven mixed-breed puppies I watched from birth, I first heard a bark come out of a puppy’s mouth at three weeks. It was the suggestion of a bark, an evocation of a bark, as if to say “bark” in quotes. Two weeks later, most of these pups growing up in a house with several other barking dogs, and a noisy cockatoo, were barking and even barking in their sleep. I remember the first day I heard the dog I lived with as an adult, Pumpernickel, bark: she was two years old and her dog’s friend Lindy, an overbearing German Shepherd, started barking at a squirrel. Pump followed the example of his friend; the squirrel took notice and fled. From then on, my dog was also a squirrel barker.
Now I live with a dog that barks. She came from that litter; she was essentially trained to bark by other dogs. I have to admit that she hates barking. Intellectually, and as a canine cognition scientist, I totally accept it. A bark is simply communication, and like everyone else who lives with dogs, I want to know what my dog is saying. Wolves rarely bark, so it’s likely that we humans made the ancient descendants of wolves (soon to be dogs) bark through domestication. Indeed, it is suggested that since barking occurs in the auditory range of speech sounds, barking evolved for dogs to communicate with us. After all, we bark at dogs all the time.
Also, barking is communication with one function, or actually many functions. There are play barks, play request barks, alert barks, warning barks, request barks. Each bark is, to use the audio term, “loud”: full of broadband sound, different frequencies without a clear tone. But they vary in length and pitch and even rhythm, and can be distinguished by the keen listener. Dogs bark when they are happy, angry, fearful, or insecure. They bark when they are excited. Of course, they bark at strange and strange noises, when they are in conflict or when they are in conflict. They bark when they find a trail; They bark to get attention. Even if my scientific mind knows this, my emotional reaction is: enough. Our dog, Quiddity, whose first year of life I detail in my new book the year of the puppybark what i would call rudelyusing human measurers. She barks at visitors to our house. She barks at warm-hearted strangers who want to pet her. And she barks at dogs smaller—and only smaller—than her. While I admire the keenness of her perception of her relative size, people with small dogs don’t share my admiration. And her bark is high-pitched: high-pitched. Inevitable. That she stops barking shortly, often nonchalantly walking away, does not mitigate her impact. It’s a surprise.
In cities, the most troublesome barking for residents is “lonely” barking: barking that is heard throughout the neighborhood, except for the owners of the dog that leaves them home alone. Barks of even a few minutes, a bark that yells “hey, I’m alone! hi!” is considered a public nuisance. Owners can measure the duration and frequency of barks to begin gathering evidence of this civic infraction; tenants can be evicted for this noise. Some people abandon their dogs, a shelter, another pair of hands, for fear of losing their homes. I have been on the receiving end of non-stop barking from neighboring dogs. While not charming, the poignant plea of dogs for companionship leading to the potential loss of their family is not lost on me. I will not report on that dog.
I think it’s a mistake to think that barking is a “bad behavior”, as it often is. We define bad behavior in dogs as those things that they do that we just do I do not like itregardless of whether the dog is equipped to understand or appreciate the rules they are breaking. When our new pup chewed up several pens, leaving expressive dots of black ink on our carpets and floors, I could have scolded this “bad” behavior. But really, I reason, it’s my bad behavior: I shouldn’t have left those pens and nothing else for the pup to chew on. And similarly, when he barks at a person who comes into our apartment, I now see it as a mistake of mine: I need to give him something else to latch on to when the person arrives, or introduce him outside, or with a tennis ball, his favorite toy. .
In the end, his barking problem is my problem. I’ll take a break on this. After all, I know that in my heart I am a good dog.
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