What is Summer Saying? Observing a Bark

Summer mid bark keepWhen I filmed Summer barking using the slow motion function of my video camera, I was mostly curious in an analytical sort of way. What could I see when I slowed everything down?

I didn’t realize that I would find the footage so touching.

Slow motion filming is helpful because dog body language is so very fast. A dozen things can happen while we are just trying to process one. Much of it is so fleeting that we never see it at all.

Summer has a very expressive face, and she’s a worrywart. When you see her two little barks in slow motion, the extent of her anxiety is clear.

In day-to-day life with dogs, this is the kind of behavior that can be annoying. You are trying to read, watch TV, or go to bed, and the dog starts fussing because, for instance, the neighbor dropped a board on his back porch. You almost feel like the dog is doing it to annoy you.

But seeing something like this makes things very clear. No, she’s not a princess. No, she isn’t attention mongering. She’s just worried.

I’m glad I have been able to start working with Summer again. I’m afraid her anxiety took a back seat during Clara’s first couple of years in the household, since Summer could function in the world and had people and dog friends, and Clara had only me. Now that Clara is doing so well, the pendulum can swing back. I have been working on some of Summer’s triggers at home and already seeing progress. I’ll be writing about that some more soon.

In the meantime, you can check out how expressive two little barks can be.


Link to the video for email subscribers.

What do you see when your dog barks? Does it vary?

Related page

Dog body language posts and videos

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10 thoughts on “What is Summer Saying? Observing a Bark

  1. Excellent video and explanations, Eileen. I think the tongue flicks were especially telling and agree that this would be something that could be so easily missed. I also agree that many owners (and trainers and behaviorists) are quick to classify barking as “mis”-behavior, calling it annoyance, attention-seeking, or repetitive barking (yuck). Vocalizations are communication in dogs, just as they are in humans. (And how many people wouldn’t we all like to classify as “annoyance talkers”, eh?). Thanks again for a great piece – sharing!

  2. Very touching post–thank you for sharing it!

    Our two dogs have very different styles. Tulip, a 25 pound border collie, has many different barks, all highly communicative and very clear. There is the “Get lost!” bark sequence aimed at noisy squirrels and crows in our own yard, but not used in the park. There is the “Somebody’s here!” bark when the front gate opens and continues until I open the door or they go away again. The “Did you hear that?” bark which is demanding but soft and brief. The “Hey, you forgot me!” one sharp shrill bark used only when she is shut in a room and wants to come out. There is a long series of frightened yips I’ve only ever heard when she is dreaming, a strange sound from a highly confident dog.

    Dilly, on the other hand, is mostly silent. He’s a tall goofy Great Dane mix, 75 pounds of good will and couch potato. He doesn’t bark at squirrels, barks once or twice to say hello to visitors, sighs rather than barks if he thinks he’s left out of the action.

    But there’s one very odd circumstance where they’re clearly communicating. Every so often, maybe 2 or 3 times a year, Tulip will be out in the yard and give a clear and insistent challenge bark sequence. (I suspect it’s when a coyote starts up the road.) and something in her bark seems to indicate “Big dog needed here!” because Dilly, who is likely napping inside, will wake up with a start and go rushing outside with a deep booming bark he never uses otherwise.

    He runs (booming all the way) to where she is still barking and it’s also clear he has absolutely no idea what she’s barking at or where it is. But as soon as he arrives, she stops barking and begins a very watchful silence. He’ll continue the booming bark for about 20 seconds, then stop and look at her, and she’s the one who decides if they need another round or if that’s enough.

    Once she releases him, he comes straight back inside and goes back to sleep, I swear without ever knowing why he was barking other than that she called him. Tulip, though, stays outside on self appointed silent guard duty.

    I’ve had many dogs over many years and have often seen the circumstance where one dog’s barking set another off. But I’ve never seen the kind of coordinated action these two do, where both the barking and the silence are communicative. It’s a really fascinating routine.

    1. That is fascinating, Robin! Thanks for sharing. I have never seen such subtlety from my dogs, but I do notice that they classify (for want of a better term) each other’s barks. They don’t respond to another’s bark which has to do with a special interest of that dog. For instance, when Summer is after a turtle, the other two ignore her barking. But if any one of them starts into “squirrel in the yard” or “pedestrian coming up the walk!” barking, the other two are right there on it.

  3. These days, I see more and more organizations and blogs posting all sorts of body language interpretations, and others accepting their unqualified opinions as strict rules. But since dogs are both physically and behaviorally somewhat different, the only way to get a clear sense of an indicator such as their commissures is to see the difference for this dog in several different situations. And, that’s exactly what you did. Very nicely done, especially with the slow motion effects.

    And you also brought up the point of her being “unusually expressive”, which is rarely mentioned. Of the 3 I have right now, one wears his feelings clearly while another is far more “stone faced”. The 3rd dog shows so much reaction to almost anything, that her body language is rather exagerated. With some people thinking she is terrified when her subsequent behavior shows she was only a little concerned.

    1. Thanks, Gerry. I try to be circumspect about this body language stuff. We always have to allow for the situation and the limitations of the camera, especially in still shots.

      You might get a kick out of my post, “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words, But Are They the Right Ones?” I provide four photos that could easily be interpreted a certain way, but I can vouch that they are not. I have a followup post that reveals the hidden info.

  4. I love your posts and videos. They are so helpful in understanding (and SEEING) dog body language.

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