This page is part of Section Six: |
the More Information section of barkingdogs.net
Why Dogs Bark
When it comes to vocalizing dogs, the general rule is: the warmer the weather, the more the dogs will bark. Of course, you expect to hear more barking as the weather gets warmer, because the dogs are more likely to be outside and you are more likely to have your windows open. But I don't think it's just that you hear them more, I'm convinced they actually bark more as things heat up, especially at night.
Dogs seem to nap more in the heat of the day, which means, when the sun goes down and things cool off, they are refreshed, wide awake and ready to burn off some energy. So it's not surprising that, in addition to more barking in general, you get an awful lot more nocturnal racket in warm weather. I've lived in neighborhoods that had a high quality of life in the winter, only to deteriorate into a sucking pit of misery in the dog days of summer. It's so frustrating that after waiting all day for the cool of the evening, you end up having to sleep in a sweltering room with the windows closed because of the noise of a dog who is standing outside barking as he enjoys the cool night air.
Nature Versus Nurture
Beyond the weather though, what accounts for the differences in barking patterns between dogs? Why does one dog bark while another dog, in the exact same situation, remains silent, or, for that matter, why does a given dog bark at one thing and not another?
Tens of thousands of years ago, some of our ancestors came into the possession of baby wolves. The pups fell in with people so early in life that they bonded with them and found a niche in human society. As successive generations of these animals were born and raised among people, our ancestors noticed differences between the individuals. Some were bigger, some were smarter, some were faster, some were easier to train, some were better swimmers and some were better hunters.
At some point people realized that, if they mated two of their domesticated wolves who were strong in the same trait, they were likely to produce offspring who were even stronger in that characteristic. They found that by mating two great hunting wolves, they could produce a litter of superior hunters, or by mating two obedient wolves, they could beget a more obedient litter. There began to develop then, a science of selectively breeding wolves as a way of customizing that population to better meet the needs of their human companions.
In some places the major problem was one of security. In those locations, humans bred guard wolves characterized by their predisposition to sound the alarm and defend the group. In another place they raised large, powerful animals because they required beasts of burden. In other places the humans bred swift runners to hunt on land, while people elsewhere worked to produce strong swimmers that could help with the harvest of waterfowl.
Humans around the world began to selectively breed wolves or the descendants of wolves. They sought to make each successive generation more in the likeness of what they conceptualized as the ideal canid companion. Over time, through the process of selective breeding, the descendants of those first cubs ceased to be wolves and evolved into dogs.
Some of the humans who genetically engineered the evolution of the dog had little use for canines that barked much, so they selected breeding stock that was more vocally restrained. Those dogs are the ancestors of today's quieter breeds.
On the other hand, some humans intentionally bred dogs who showed a marked predisposition to vocalize. Out of those dogs came, among others, today's terriers who lapse into intense, frantic barking with little or no provocation.
So, we say that some dogs just "naturally" tend to bark a lot, which really means that, by virtue of their genetics, they are predisposed to bark. It's important to note that having a genetic predisposition to bark doesn't mean that the dog has to bark. It just means that he is inclined to do so.
The extent to which a dog will tend to bark is determined by his genetics. However, whether or not the dog actually barks is ultimately determined by the consequences of vocalizing. If barking works out well for the dog, he will bark some more. If barking consistently brings about an undesirable consequence, the dog will soon stop barking. So, like most other behavior, barking is the product of its consequences.
There is then an interplay between the dog's natural tendency to bark and the consequence that follows barking. For a dog strongly predisposed to be silent, just a bit of punishment is enough to discourage barking. In contrast, for a dog strongly predisposed to bark, it takes a conscientious owner administering a well thought-out program to keep a serious barking problem from developing.
Therefore, in answer to the question of why a particular dog is barking in a disruptive manner, it is fair to say he is doing so because his owner failed to arrange the consequences with enough care to ensure the proper behavior of the animal. In other words, he is barking because of the way you have arranged, or failed to arrange, his environment. For most dogs, there is some natural inclination to bark at the mail carrier, the neighbor's cat or other such stimuli. But whether a dog acts on his inclination to bark at a particular thing at a particular time is a matter of conditioning/training, and training your dog is your responsibility.
Natural Instinct + Conditioning + Alternatives = Frequency of Barking
A dog's barking, then, is a function of his natural inclination, in combination with his behavioral conditioning. There is one other important variable that influences barking behavior, which is the alternatives available to the dog.
If a dog has plenty of other interesting things to do, he can be easily dissuaded from barking, even if he has a strong natural predisposition to sound off. On the other hand, if the dog's only alternative to barking is sitting alone in silence, then it will take a more focused effort to keep him in line.
Underestimating the Needs of Dogs
Dogs are pretty damn bright. Most people underestimate the potential of their dog because they mistake their inability to teach the animal for the animal's inability to learn, but even a stupid dog is a far sight smarter than most people imagine.
Underestimation of the canine species is a common shortcoming among humans. We also underestimate the canine capacity to experience emotional distress and, worst of all, we underestimate their needs.
Dogs are extremely social animals that need to be included as valued members of a family group. They need the mental stimulation of new places, new people and novel situations. They need to walk and explore and interact in intensive games with both humans and dogs, and they need the opportunity to learn and face challenging situations. The rule is, the smarter the dog, the more he needs these things.
The Canine Need For Exercise
Dogs are a lot like children in a way. You can only expect them to sit still for so long. Some breeds have a capacity to exercise that is twenty times greater than that of humans, and they actually need to get out and push themselves physically. The terriers, sporting and Nordic breeds, being chief among them. It is extremely difficult for a dog to behave in a civilized manner when he is surging with physical energy he needs to burn off. If you deny him the opportunity to romp, you should not be surprised to find that misbehavior, very likely in the form of recreational barking, soon follows.
Most dogs really need to get 45 minutes a day of active exercise. That means running, chasing, romping, fast walking, swimming, or the like. Running your dog next to a bicycle can also be a good way to go if your situation allows.
If you are going to be leaving your dog alone all day, you should take special care to exercise him in the morning before you leave for work. Then he can sleep and rest up when you're gone, as opposed to looking for ways to express his vast reserve of untapped energy.
It's definitely true that some breeds of dogs need an amazing amount of exercise; however, some others don't need, nor can they tolerate, tremendous physical exertion. The amount of running necessary to warm up your Husky is more than enough to run your Basset hound to death. So, read up on your breed, and know his capacity for exercise before you sign him up to run that marathon with you. Also, keep in mind that dogs need to be given time to get in shape. Start by giving your dog a little exercise and build on that slowly as the dog's physical condition gradually improves.
Barking As A Function of A Lack of Need Fulfillment
When you look closely at the situation of a chronically barking dog, you will usually find the animal's need for exercise and stimulation is not being well met. Of course, if the owner would take responsibility for training his dog, that would put an end to the noise. But if you go beyond that to address the question of why the dog wants to bark, you'll see that boredom, loneliness, and unexpressed energy are at the heart of the problem. When you hear a barking dog, you are usually listening to the sad tale of a neglected animal that desperately needs to have his life restructured.
Written by Craig
Spanish translation - Traducción al español
This website and all its content, except where otherwise noted, are © (copyright) Craig Mixon, Ed.D., 2003-2019.