The Times May 17, 2006

Barking, but your dog will understand
By Nicola Woolcock

MOST foreign language courses teach French or Spanish to prospective tourists keen to learn the local lingo before their holiday.

But one council has taken translation to a new level by offering lessons in how to understand the barking of dogs.

Dog lovers not satisfied with simply resembling their pets can now learn how to sound like them as well.

They will be taught guidance from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the ten different ways in which their animal communicates — and the nine things that it might be trying to tell its owner.

The free masterclass in understanding woofs, squeals and growls is being offered by a council desperate to cut down on noise pollution.

It is providing a vet, a dog behaviourist and a nurse at next week’s inaugural session — in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. They will teach techniques to doting owners, hoping that this will result in superior communication with their dogs and fewer complaints about barking. The different noises made by dogs have been identified as grunts, whines, yelps, screams, howls, growls, coughs, barks, tooth snapping and panting.

While this cacophony might sound overwhelming to the untrained ear, dog owners will learn whether the sounds mean that their pet wants a walk, a wee or a fresh can of food.

Apparent meanings can include a friendly greeting, an invitation to play, a signal of distress or defence. Other noises indicate that the animal is under threat, submissive, wanting contact, attention seeking or contact seeking.

The training is being offered by Peterborough City Council in an attempt to cut down on complaints about antisocial noise. The council’s pollution control team receives more than 1,300 noise complaints a year. Of those, 15 per cent relate to the barking of dogs.

Nationally, the figure is even higher at 25 per cent of all complaints.

Laura Bradley, a pollution control officer at the council, said: “To help to alleviate the problem the council has organised this free dog training session.”

Defra identified the different noises made by dogs and the meanings behind them.

A report it produced into the problem, Constant Barking can be Avoided, gave an explanation for repetitive barking, saying: “Animals that have evolved to live in groups tend to have complex language systems — this is particularly true of the dog because it has evolved from animals that are co-operative hunters and share rearing of their young.

“Their vocal communication involves different types of sounds, and by varying the tone of these sounds dogs can convey different emotional states.

“Barking to deter people from entering the owner’s property is related to natural territorial behaviour and may be acceptable to owners as well as neighbours. If the dog barks at everyone who walks past in the street, the behaviour can become an irritant.”

The training was organised as part of Noise Action Week, which takes place next week.