Last updated on June 7th, 2023 at 09:26 pm
We know that dogs often communicate with us and other dogs by barking and through their body language. But do dogs think in the form of barks? Is barking a type of language that dogs can imagine and vocalize?
While dogs primarily communicate verbally with humans and other dogs through barking, barking is not their primary form of thinking. Barking is a vocalization that conveys certain emotions or messages, but it is not equivalent to thoughts in the way humans experience them.
Dogs Think and Communicate in Many Ways, Including Barking
We know that dogs communicate by barking, so we might think that they also believe in terms of barking. Yet, dogs have their own way of perceiving and processing information, involving sensory inputs, instincts, and learned behaviors. For example, they rely heavily on their sense of smell and can interpret body language and facial expressions. Additionally, dogs have the capacity for memory, problem-solving, and basic emotions.
Barking is only one way that dogs communicate. When dogs communicate through barking, they are expressing various things such as alerting to potential threats, seeking attention, expressing frustration, or trying to communicate their needs.
Scientific American wrote an article summarizing a study of barking. The study demonstrated that dogs can distinguish the meaning of other dog’s barks based on the tone and pitch. Barking can be an instinctual response or a learned behavior based on their experiences and training.
Do Dogs Hear the Sound of Barking in Their Minds?
Often barking is an expression of what a dog is feeling. However, barking can also be a simple matter of a vocal release of pent-up energy without a specific purpose. So, it is doubtful that dogs think in terms of barks. Instead, they react to barking by listening to the tone, pitch, and duration. Whether or not dogs “hear” barking as part of their thought process is doubtful.
More likely, dogs think more about what they feel, smell, want, or react to. For example, my dogs get hungry about 30 minutes before their dinner time. They seem to have pretty good “dog clocks” in their head regarding meals. They sit next to me and stare at me for as much as 20 minutes until I realize it is time for their dinner. But this is a more intuitive or instinctive thing, not an analytical process regarding the time of day.
Dogs Do Not Have Linguistic Skills Like Humans
While dogs don’t have a complex language system like humans, they have their own way of thinking and processing information. Therefore, their thoughts are likely a combination of sensory perceptions, associations, and emotional states rather than a linguistic thought process resembling barks.
However, dogs understand some brief phrases and can learn up to 200 words in just about any language. But this ability has more to do with words’ sounds and their association than a cognitive ability to understand language. For more on this, please review my post Does Your Dog Understand Full Conversations? Science Weighs In.
So, to say that a dog thinks in barks, does not make much sense. Barks are not like words to dogs. Rather, they are a physical, vocal reaction to a dog’s emotional state.
What Do Dogs Think About and How Does Their Mind Work?
Dogs mostly live in the moment. They constantly surveil their enviroment for anything of interest or signs of danger. They listen, smell, watch and react to things based on their sensory input. Be sure to see my post What Do Dogs Think About When Sitting Quietly? to get some more insights into a dog’s mind.
Additionally, dogs do have the ability to remember their past, probably more in terms of visual memories, sounds, and smells. It is unlikely they can analyze or interpret past experience. Dogs can also anticipate the future, but only in an immediate sense.
When I tell my dogs that their favorite Auntie Jayne is coming soon, they will run to the front door and wait for several minutes for her arrival. So, dogs can anticipate things. Therefore, they do have some cognitive ability to put events and time together.
Even so, it is more of an intstinctive process like waiting for food to fall from the table, than an analytical process. I doubt that my dogs think to themselves, “Gee, if I wait here for a long time, I might get a food scrap.” Therefore, it is unlikely that dogs think in constructive terms and certainly not in any type of “language” including barks.
How Do Dogs Think About Things They Want to Do?
Dogs can think about things they want to do, but their thought processes differ from those of humans. Dogs have basic desires and instincts and can form intentions and goals based on those desires.
For example, if a dog is hungry, it may think about finding food or approaching its food bowl. If it wants to play, it may think about finding a toy or engaging with its owner. These thoughts are driven by their immediate needs, instincts, and learned associations.
However, dogs’ thought processes are generally more focused on the present moment and immediate gratification rather than long-term planning or abstract thinking. They tend to live in the present and respond to their environment based on their instincts and past experiences.
It’s important to note that dogs primarily rely on their instincts and sensory perceptions rather than engaging in complex abstract thinking like humans. Their thoughts and motivations are typically tied to their immediate needs, desires, and environmental cues.
Dogs do not think in terms of language, such as barks or words. But they think, feel, and react to their instinctive needs and wants. Their thinking processes are more tied to visual, olfactory, sound, and physical stimuli, which motivate reactions and behavior.
Despite our dog’s inability to be complex, deep thinkers, our dogs seem pretty good at “reading” our minds. They seem to know what we are feeling, how we regard them, and when it is time to eat! So, all in all, dogs are pretty smart, even without linguistic skills!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.