Why Do Dogs Bark?

PhysOrg.Com mentions some interesting research being published in Behavioural Processes. Not Only Dogs, but Deer, Monkeys and Birds Bark to Deal with Conflict:

Rather, she and colleagues say barking is the auditory signal associated with an evolved behavior known as mobbing, a cooperative anti-predator response usually initiated by one individual who notices an approaching intruder. A dog barks because she feels an internal conflict―an urge to run plus a strong urge to stand her ground and defend pups, for example. When the group joins in, the barks intimidate the intruder, who often flees.

“We think dogs bark due to this internal conflict and mobbing behavior, but domestic dogs bark more because they are put, and put themselves into, conflicting situations more often,” she says.

This is some really interesting research. The lead researcher, Kathryn Lord, relates dog barking back to the beginnings of domestication:

As Lord explains, “In evolutionary terms, dogs self-selected the behavior of sticking around, overcoming their fear and being rewarded by getting to eat that meal before some other dog got it. Thus these animals allow people to get unusually close. The scared ones die while those less scared stay, eat, survive and reproduce. So they inherit the tendency.”
She adds, “By contrast, wild animals like wolves have a very long flight distance. They hear something and they run before you’d ever see them. Dogs hang around, but now they have committed to holding their ground and the closer an ‘intruder’ gets, the more likely mobbing is to occur rather than running away.”

The researchers are able to break a “bark” down into a number of different components, that can then be used to examine similar types of calls in other animals – such as birds and primates. The paper is available by subscription only (doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2009.04.008 Behavioural Processes Volume 81, Issue 3, July 2009, Pages 358-368 Canine Behaviour and Cognition) – if anybody has access can you email me a copy?

The idea of a bark as a que for mobbing behavior makes sense to me, but since I haven’t read the paper I won’t say more…

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