Do Dogs Think in Barks?

Life is but thought – Sara Teasdale

The famous canine philosopher Rene Dogcartes once growled “I bark, therefore I am”, and gave power and purpose to the howl of the individual and reimagined his place within the pack.

But to truly answer the question of whether I, Henry the German Shepherd, think in barks, we’ll have to look at the way that all that dogs think in far greater detail.

In Dreams, I Bark My Truth

As has been well documented, all dogs dream, and in our dreams, we replay the events that have happened around us or become caught in our strange fantasies involving the pursuit of squirrels and rabbits and foxes, playing with other dogs, or just getting to grips with a really good bone.

And because our dog brains are creating these imaginary scenarios inside our heads, it’s likely that we can hear sounds in our dreams in much the same way that you humans hear noises in yours.

So, do I, and by that inference, all dogs hear barking in our dreams? I do, and as such, I assume that other dogs do too.

But Outside Of The Dream World, Do You Think In Barks?

That is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Some animal behaviorists and scientists have postulated the idea that when dogs such as myself are thinking about abstract concepts and ideas (it’s true, we are capable of considering these things), then yes, we do think in barks, or at, least barking forms part of the narrative process of our thoughts in order to communicate a concept rather than a fixed idea.

That’s because when we bark, we’re not communicating in a language that’s based on words and what those words mean, we’re actually using sound to communicate an emotional state and the way that we’re feeling.

For instance, if I bark with a deep resonant tone, I could be referring to the fact I consider myself to be the alpha male and am asserting my dominant position to other dogs within hearing range.

However, if I bark in a high, excited, and repeated tone, that usually means that I want someone to throw my ball for me so that we can enjoy a good game of fetch.

So Dogs Don’t Talk To Each Other?

Of course, we talk to each other, but we don’t talk to each other in the same way that humans talk to each other.

As I’ve already explained, we don’t have a set language and we can’t discuss complicated ideas or pass the time of day by talking about the weather.

When we bark, it’s merely our way of making others aware of our emotional state at that time. We could be letting them know that we’re happy, that we’re angry, or warning them to stay away from us or that we’d like some attention.

Barking isn’t as much about talking as it is about letting other dogs and humans know how we feel.

How Do You Understand Each Other? And Can You Understand Humans When They Bark?

It isn’t the sound of the bark that we understand, it’s the emotion that it conveys. Like almost every other member of the animal kingdom, we’re instinctual creatures that react in the moment according to our surroundings and the situations that we find ourselves in.

We don’t talk to each other, we react to each other and the moments that we find ourselves caught up in, and understand the tone, frequency, and urgency of bark rather than any linguistic meaning that it may, or may not have.

That’s why we can appear to “understand” a human when they bark at us, not because we know what they’re saying, but because we’re reacting to the emotion that the tone of the bark is conveying, whether that’s anger, fear or excitement.

We don’t really know what you’re saying, but we are capable of understanding the emotion that you’re conveying when you imitate us and attempt to talk to, and communicate with, us by barking.

Can You Understand Humans? What Language Do You Think In?

If you’ve ever heard another human say “My dog understands every word that I say” and then rolled your eyes and whispered “Whatever” in response, you might want to reconsider your ideas about interspecies communication. Why? Because your friend was right. Sort of.

We can understand some of what you say to us, but we don’t actually understand what the words mean, instead, we understand and recognize the sound of the words, and associate that sound with an action or object.

So when we hear you say “sit”, we understand what you want us to do because we associate the sound that word makes with that particular action and have learned what it is that you want us to do when you say that word.

Depending on where we live in the world, we understand different human languages, or rather the sounds that those languages use rather than the actual words themselves. And as for thinking in a human language, we don’t do that.

Even though we might live in a certain country and understand the dialect and sounds that the humans in that country make, we can’t speak that language, because we can’t speak any languages, and as such we don’t think in any human language.

Because they Understand is, Does That Mean That Dogs Think That Humans Are Dogs Too?

Alas, as much as some humans like to think that we dogs think of them as being big, furless canines, it simply isn’t true.

We know that you’re humans, and just because we can understand the sounds that you make, we don’t think that you’re dogs. You look different, you smell different, you behave differently and you do the strangest things.

I mean, what is television? No dog would ever waste half their life watching television when there are balls and squirrels to be chased and couches to curl up and sleep on.

So no, we know the difference between humans and dogs, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not our best friends too. You are and you always will be.

The Last Woof… Do We Think In Barks?

While the majority of our thinking processes are reaction and image-based, occasionally we think in barks, but that mostly happens while we’re sleeping.

In our dreams, we can hear ourselves speak. We might not be able to understand what we’re saying, but in our mind’s eye, we can hear ourselves and our friends bark.