From conveying personal data via scents to using body language to “speak,” dogs are secretly great communicators
By MATTHEW ROZSA – Salon Magazine – 1 August 2021
“Dogs and humans have co-evolved to the point that we can intuit some of each other’s behaviors, such as the desire to go on a walk or the need to use the bathroom. But because our canine friends seemingly cannot convey complex thoughts (to us), their interior lives, thoughts and dreams — or lack thereof — remain mysterious to us humans. What are they saying when they bark at each other? How do they feel when they look at us while panting, or lick us with what seems to be affection? What are they thinking when they sniff random objects — or each other’s butts?
Or are they even thinking anything?
Fortuitously, canine experts have been pondering this very subject for years. And it turns out that scientists and behaviorists actually know quite a lot about dogs’ interior lives — and even what they are “saying” when they bark at each other. Or how they use their anal glands like Facebook pages, in which a sniff reveals a trove of personal data.
Even something as seemingly simple as a bark masks a much more complicated meaning.
They bark primarily when they are alarmed or excited about something, and this is also the context in which their ancestors, wolves, tend to bark, though barking in wolves is less common and much more subdued,” Dr. James A. Serpell, Professor of Ethics & Animal Welfare, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told Salon by email. Hence, barking may serve as a warning to others about a possible threat or danger, making a threat themselves (such as to that pesky mailman) or expressing sympathy for other dogs barking about possible threats or dangers.
Dr. Erica N. Feuerbacher, an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Animal & Poultry Science, told Salon that dogs, like birds, will perform “mobbing calls” meant to call their peers to attention.
“Humans are able to detect differences in some (but not all) dog barks and could often correctly identify the situation the dog was in based solely on its bark (e.g., was it barking at an intruder or was it a happy playful bark),” Feuerbacher explained.
And while humans don’t understand the context and meaning of these barks, their fellow canines likely do. Studies appear to confirm that.