The bark of the dogs

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 27, 2012 12:31 AM

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m in the kitchen, standing at the table (it’s a pub table so it’s tall), listening to the sounds of the OP as they filter through the open bay window. The last shards of sunlight are highlighting the tops of the trees; the trunks are already in shadow. Across the street, Carter, the wheaton terrier, is outside in the backyard and she seems decidedly unhappy about it. She’s been barking steadily for at least 45 minutes. It’s not an obnoxious bark. It’s actually rather muffled, as if she’s ruffing through a pillow, the original bark silencer. There are two cars in the driveway at her house so I imagine someone is home but whoever that someone is evidently is not hearing what she has to say.

I believe that when dogs bark they are communicating. They’re not just barking because they can, any more than most people talk only because they can. Dogs bark to announce someone’s or something’s arrival, whether invited or not. They bark when they hear something they can’t see. They bark when they see things they can’t hear. They speak when we tell them and then we sometimes get mad when they do. I would think a great number of them get confused on a fairly regular basis.

Our neighbor Kobe, the terrier terror one wall over, barks all the time. It’s as if he barks to hear himself bark, though I’m smart enough to know that’s not the case. He barks for three reasons: he doesn’t know not to, because he can, and because he can’t see everything that he hears beyond the great wall of Kobe land. Kevin gets mad at him sometimes and to be truthful, I’ve been known to mutter “Kobe: Shut the f*&^ up” a time or two, but he’s not a bad dog. He’s just never been properly socialized. And he’s outside quite often, without any attention. He hears things; he barks. When he hears us on the patio, grilling, we get bombarded with RUFF, RUFF RURURURURURU!

The size of the dog is directly proportional to the size of the bark. Small dogs yip and screech, and are generally aggressive. Medium dogs have slightly more depth to their growl and ruff. Large dogs rumble with authority and huge dogs cause earthquakes. They don’t bark very often since they don’t really need to. The sheer size of them is enough to communicate nearly anything they might need to say.

Like Go. Away. Or Need. Cookie. NOW.

When we were walking the other day, up a fairly steep hill, we were both surprised by two huge barks coming at us from the wall above. We looked up, hearts pounding. Two Great Danes stared down at us. They barked in order to let us know they were watching us. They weren’t necessarily concerned, but they were there and needed us to know that.

The aforementioned Kobe the terrible has been known to bark as early as 5:30 am and as late as 1 am giving us a four and a half hour window of silence. Down the street and on the corner there’s a house with five small dogs. When we walk by on the sidewalk, they spew out tiny conniptions. We usually just look and shake our heads.

Maguire was never much of a barker. He was known to be more the strong silent type. He would bark three times, pause, and if it was needed again, like if we hadn’t yet attended to his needs, he’d bark three more times. When we would go for our mid-day walks, he would wait in the kitchen window. Somehow he could see us, even when he was older, as we were on our way back and he would bark. Ruff, ruff. (slight pause) Ruff. He was telling us he saw us and was ready for us to be home.

When he would go out into the backyard for a cookie or just to go on tour, he would let us know when he was ready to come back in with one sharp bark at the door. Then he’d wait and stare. If we didn’t come running immediately, he’d bark again, just once. If he was still forced to wait – the unimaginable horror – he would bark twice, nearly indignant. As soon as the door slid open and he bounded inside, he was fine.

Barking actually expresses the different emotions the dog is feeling. Loneliness, fear, suspicion, stress and pleasure. Playful barks are often short and sharp. Distressed barks are often high pitched and repetitive (see: Terror, Kobe). The pitch actually gets higher as the dog becomes more and more distressed. A dog left home alone might bark like this (see: Muffled, Carter). Some dogs, like hounds, bark when they’re chasing something. For some reason, this type of barking is often called singing because it’s more of a howl, longer and with more tone.

K9 Magazine has translated barks so that we know what our canine companions are telling us. For instance:

  • Continuous, rapid barking means “call the pack. There’s a problem!”
  • Strings of three or four usually translate to “there may be an issue. You should check it out.”
  • Prolonged barking is asking the question “is there anybody out there?”
  • One sharp short bark is a greeting. Or it could be “stop that; I’m warning you.”

As I listen to the sounds of the dogs in the ‘hood, I miss my boy, naturally, but it also makes me smile. Because I love wondering and imagining whatever it is they all have to say.

Comments (4) -

6/27/2012 11:05:49 AM #

My daughter, Melissa, does not like it when Nina, our wonderful 4 year-old "bear pupple" barks. She thinks it disturbs passersby and that it is rude behavior. She's always telling poor Nina to shut up. To her, apparently barking is completely antisocial behavior.

I, on the other hand, positively love Nina's bark, her voice, her call of the canine wild, her majestic 32 pound bronze tenor of a sound. I could listen to it all day, all 100 decibels of it. It brings a smile to me. Her bark is such a gratifying announcement of "Very alive and proud bear pupple here!" Strong. Assertive. Very proud.

Buddie, Melissa's very elegant and "Her Royal Fatness" 16 year-old kitty, sides with Melissa and not with me in this matter. The "Buds" does not appreciate being yelled (barked) at whatsoever. I love it though. I think Nina giving the buds her daily vocal shit keeps everyone young and on their toes. Or claws. Or paws.

Do you have a video of Maguire actually barking that you could perhaps post here? I'd love to HEAR him! Smile

Fred United States

6/27/2012 11:54:19 AM #

I'm going to have to scour the archives and see if I can find a video of our vintage puppy, with sound. We have hundreds of pictures, of course, but for whatever reason never seemed to take a lot of video.

When he was younger and would "argue" with Squire Squirrel in the back yard, with the Squire sitting up on a tree branch, just out of Maguire's reach, barking his little squirrel squeak and Maguire rearing up on his hind legs and barking his big dog, I'll-get-you-my-pretty bark, it was a riot.

Good memories. I can still hear my boy's voice.

I do have to disagree with Melissa though. While some barking is antisocial (see: Terror, Kobe), most is actually very social. It's how they communicate.

Lorin United States

6/27/2012 6:07:39 PM #

I love how you spell the actual barking.

Pam United States

6/27/2012 7:39:04 PM #

I am flanked by two dog owners...I have been known to open my upstairs bedroom window and bark back Smile

Larissa United States

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