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How Dogs Communicate

This paper will look at one of the communication systems of dogs - sound. It will look at how dogs communicate in the wild, and how they communicate with man in captivity. It will deal with spoken language as a means of communication animal-to-animal and animal-to-man.

In human language, the actual sounds that make up the words we hear have no intrinsic relation to the meaning of the words themselves. However, in animal vocalizations, this is not so. It is almost a universal law of animal communication that low sounds (growls) indicate aggression and high sounds (whines) indicate fear or appeasement (Budiansky, 1995). Big things generally make low sounds and small things make high sounds. Whines and growls therefore take advantage of both the laws of acoustics and eons of evolved experience: it pays to recognize and avoid big things and not to fear small things. Humans also respond to these same rules in that they speak in a soft, high-pitched voice to a baby, and in a rough low tone to some one when they are angry.

Domesticated dogs do not have the same concept of self as higher apes and humans do (Budiansky, 1995). A chimp looking in a mirror quickly understands that it is seeing and image of itself. If you paint a dot on the chimps head, it will try to wipe it off. A dog fails these tests. It will often try to attack its own image in the mirror, thinking it is another dog.

Barking in dogs does not usually follow this rule. A Bark monitored on an oscilloscope is halfway between a growl and a whine, and its purpose is less clear. Dogs bark for a tremendous variety of purposes, and even a deaf dog will bark for hours. Wolf pups will bark, but grown wild dogs, such as wolves and coyotes, rarely do. There is a theory that in the course of evolution, dogs have become permanent adolescents; their major traits are neither adult nor juvenile, but part way in between (Budiansky, 1995).

Oddly, domesticated d...

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How Dogs Communicate. (2000, January 01). In Retrieved 05:48, February 20, 2017, from