“ Although it is one of the most conspicuous features of dog behaviour, barking has received little attention from ethologists or from an applied perspective.”
This lack of attention has been remedied by new research from the Institute of Biology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary.
A team from the university’s Department of Ethology, finds, in a review of previous literature, that “…barking has evolved towards an acoustic signal that can have a ‘universal’ utility in dog vocal communication.”
Canine communication can come in various forms – some identified (in previous research focussed on the Hungarian hunting dog – the Mudi – see photo) as : meows, grunts, whines, yelps, screams, whimpers, howls, bleats, growls, yaps, barks, clicks, ‘snapping of teeth‘, and pants.But, despite the current ethological approach, some doubts still remain as to the origins and meanings of the various modes.
“Barking has been shown to be context dependent, and provides information for humans about the inner state of the dog although there are few indications that barking is used for intra-species communication. It is assumed that dog barking emerged through selective processes in which human preferences for certain acoustic aspects of the vocalisation may have been paramount.”
And indeed, the subject is far from closed – “A more experiment-oriented approach is required for the study of dog vocalisation that could shed light on the possible communicative function of these acoustic signals.”
The paper is published in The Veterinary Journal Volume 183, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 141-147. You can also find a full copy here.
Also see : previous research (2005) from the same department : Human Listeners Are Able to Classify Dog (Canis familiaris) Barks Recorded in Different Situations. (the Mudi study)