When We Bark, What Do Dogs Hear?

Growing up, my mom would occasionally try random tricks to get our Vizsla, “Megan” to howl, or what she called “sing”. imagesCATHM1FB(pictured)

Certain music, singing or howling by a group of us would really get her howling. This process usually began with Megan’s bottom lip quivering as she got worked up, followed a mournful “roowoowooow” as she couldn’t help but join in.

When I visit a friend’s house with a dog, I can’t help trying a dog whine or quick “yip” when the animal is looking the other way.  Occasionally I’ll do what must be a particularly convincing whine, or bark, and the animal’s ears will really perk up. They’ll look me in the eyes, incredulously, for seconds. I am always curious, what do they hear?

I’m not a dog communications expert, and I don’t think that anyone is exactly sure how dogs communicate with each other. Obviously there’s the scent thing as well, which I haven’t ventured into imitating yet – and it’s probably a bit presumptuous to think that different bark sounds are actually different “words” to dogs.  But I can’t help wondering what the dog is hearing? Is it “Danger” or “Hey!” or “Purple swing set apple”. At the same time, if a dog heard a group of people laughing, how great would it be if it wandered up and joined in the laughing?

Of course, this also applies to cats. Though, clearly, being the smarter, more superior, and overall, better, of the two animals, once they are onto the trick they are quick to shun you for fooling them. And they will give you a “you’re better than that” look if they witness you trying to “mreoowww” in their native tongue.

The parrot is the only creature that I can think of that plays the same trick on humans.  Though people have tried to teach parrots how to truly communicate with humans, from what I’ve read, the jury is still out on if they really understand what they are saying, and why they imitate us.

So what do you think? (Dog, Cat, Parrot communications experts and imitators please weigh in)

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3 responses to “When We Bark, What Do Dogs Hear?

  1. I’m not an expert, just an owner, but I have done a lot of interest because bird communication fascinates me. It seems to me that if a bird says ‘give peanut,’ while you’re eating peanuts, and reaches out hopefully, he knows what he’s saying. All our birds do this interchangeably with different foods, and will ask by name for things. If they don’t know what it is, they’ll ask for a ‘Mmm.’ It’s pretty cute!

    Parrots have REALLY good timing, and captive ones are known to make up their own sentences from words they’ve learnt. On a related note, in terms of sounds, my Senegal also does a car alarm that he does when startled, plus a repertoire of ‘alarm’ sounds that he only makes when afraid – and the other birds understand this. All parrots communicate in the wild through mimicry, although they only do so with their own species’ sounds – they also have their own ‘names’ (distinct chirps), and can share these with one another. Having owned cats, dogs, horses, and birds throughout my life, I have to say, parrots are the most intelligent by far.

    Anyway, haha, I’ve practically written a book here…. Apologies! I guess to finish, Dr Irene Pepperberg and her African Grey, Alex, are the best examples of humans attempting to understand parrot communication. That’s worth a watch on YouTube, if you’ve never seen it or heard of them. Brilliant stuff!

    -S.

    • I really appreciate that info, and that’s a good perspective on if parrots understand what they’re actually saying when they mimic human speech. And that brings up another question about animal intelligence.. soon to follow!

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