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Why Do Dogs Bark? Is Their Speech Evolving?

The domesticated dog has been man’s best friend for the last 18,800 to 32,100 years, but it is surprising how we still have yet to fully understand this complex and still evolving descendant of the grey wolf.

So Why Do Dogs Bark?


asian red dog

What Does The Dog Say?
Asian Red Dog, Photo By, Ralf Schmode, Public Domain

Considering that all dogs are canines and members of the Canis genus which includes wolves, foxes and hyenas, why are they the only ones in this family that bark?

We all know dogs bark to communicate of course, but is this an adaptation of natural behavior? Did mans best friend develop this ability solely to try to communicate with/to his master?

Most importantly, how do we know exactly what they are saying?

In the following video clip featured by BBC Earth on YouTube called “Secret Life of Dogs-Why do dogs bark?” scientists don’t exactly answer this question but raise a few more, perhaps this was the intention. See for yourself.

As demonstrated in the video, there is an amazing accuracy rate of us humans understanding exactly what a dog is trying to “say”, not just our own dogs which seems more plausible.

Just last year Scientific American reported new studies which discovered dogs have a “modifiable vocal tract”, and there may be more complexity to dog barks than previously thought.

Based on the fact that a search of “dog talking” on YouTube returns over 2 million videos, this phenomenon may not be breaking or even shocking news, but it does reinforce a possibility of inter-species communication and that dog owners believe they already “speak” with their dog(s).

In October 2010, NOVA launched an interactive test that lets you listen to a variety of recorded dog barks, whines and whimpers and then prompts you to interpret their meaning, try for yourself here.

‘What Are You Saying Lassie? Timmy Fell In A Well’

Dog owners often share stories about their dogs “telling” or “warning” them about impending danger, but there is no disputing the fact that dogs save human lives everyday.  Animal lover, pet owner or not there is little debate about humans reliance on the domesticated dog, historically and today. Besides search and rescue dogs, K-9 units, guide and service dogs, they provide therapy and often add years to pet owners lives.

Science and real world experience should always go together, and one look on social media can confirm (for any skeptics) that dogs bark for all kinds of reasons.

Now that we know that the reason dogs bark is to communicate with us, take a look at this compilation video from PetSami that showcases some especially linguistically limber dogs.


Feature image courtesy of U.S. Air Force, Photo by Josh Plueger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

About Tonya O'Dell