I love when dogs wait, come, sit, stay... I love when they cuddle, high five, and play but most importantly, I love when dogs speak. Through their body language, eye contact, actions, and vocalizations dogs have as much to say to us as we have to say to them. When barking or other forms of vocalization are excessive, intervention is necessary, for the well being of dogs and those around them. In the case of excessive barking for example, deciding how to better meet a dog's needs, how to help them relax when overstimulated, or intervening before unnecessary barking begins can lessen, or eliminate excessive barking. However, barking and other forms of vocalization, when not excessive, are very important ways that dogs communicate, and in many situations should be allowed and even encouraged.
None of the dogs who attend our off leash adventures are excessive barkers. However, many of them use a variety of non-excessive vocalizations to communicate both with Janet and I, and with each other. Some dogs communicate quietly using more body language, actions and eye contact. Others are very vocal in their communication styles. Each of their unique and diverse communication styles are equally effective, smart and beautiful, always expressing important and valuable information.
(Short note on growling: growling is often misunderstood as aggression or a prelude to aggression. Some dogs rarely bark, but communicate vocally using growls. There are many types of non-aggressive growls, such as play growls, alarm growls, and boundary setting growls. A dog should never be reprimanded or redirected when growling especially when the growling is a completely non-aggressive part of their communication style).
Here are some types of vocalizations:
Excitement is a very beautiful emotion that, when not excessive should be celebrated. The woods, the beach, and bumping into family and friends who I love are all beautifully exciting to me. Our dogs have the exact same experience. For the more vocal canines in our pack, those moments of excitement barking, whining, and other forms of dog speak, as long as they do not become excessive, are very important and often heart warming components of their communication styles.
Imagine there is a door in your home that you enter often, when you expect noone else to be home, and normally noone is there. Then one day, a family member forgot to tell you that a friend would be visiting and was in your house. When a person is unexpectedly behind the door you might be momentarily startled before you give your friend a welcome, a hug and big smiles. Dogs can have the exact same experience. At a spot on a trail where they normally see noone, a dog may become startled for a moment when an unexpected person or dog approaches, letting out a short spurt of alarm barking or growling. These alarm vocalizations when momentarily startled are followed by a wagging tail, a big smile, and a warm and friendly greeting.
Dogs also may let out moments of alarm barking or growling when they sense a danger is approaching. They may pick up on the energy of hostility of an approaching person, or they may pick up on the aggression of an approaching dog. They may also sense a predator in the woods, or that someone is in danger on a nearby path. These types of alarm vocalizations should be managed but not eliminated. As long as 99% of the time your dog is not alarm barking then it is non-excessive and just fine. In some cases, the alarm vocalizations of dogs have saved lives.
Dogs also may use an alarm bark or growl, when not startled or sensing danger, simply to let you know that someone is coming. As long as they are short and sweet, let them speak!
Boundary Setting Vocalizations:
Our more vocal dogs talk to us and to each other with barks and growls. Dogs are great communicators, knowing exactly how to express their needs, which is clearly what we should want them to do. More vocal dogs may speak to each other in short moments of barking or growling to let another dog know they need space, that the other dog is bothering them, or to set a boundary with a new dog they meet.
Some dogs play silently while others are more vocal. Play barks and growls are completely non-aggressive. Play barks, especially during games of chase are most often higher pitched and intermittent, play growls may be heard during a spirited wrestling match or in some dogs may accompany a play bow. When not excessive these types of vocalizations are again important and beautiful ways that dogs speak and communicate during play.
So let's never forget... LET THEM SPEAK!