Since I share a home with two Shetland Sheepdogs, barking is a part of my everyday life. While I enjoy hearing all the funny noises my pets make, barking can have serious consequences: It is one of the behavior problems that lands dogs in shelters. Ironically, humans may be responsible for the very barking we complain about.
Csaba Molnar, a former ethologist at Eotvos Lorand University, has been studying how barking evolved in the dogs we love . Barking is common in domesticated dogs, but not wild dogs.
Since barking is common in domesticated dogs, but not wild dogs, Molnar believes that the behavior is linked to selective breeding by humans. Molnar's studies have uncovered some interesting findings.
Molnar is currently seeking funding to explore why humans might have selected for barking abilities, although another theory believes that it wasn't intentional. Eugene Morton, a zoologist and animal communication expert at the National Zoo, believes that in selecting for “friendly traits” in wolves, barking was a unintended byproduct. Barks are used by juvenile wolves, which also share many other traits with domesticated dogs, such as playfulness.
No matter how barking evolved, it's pretty cool that Molnar's study showed that we can understand dogs' vocalizations to some extent. We are closer to our pets than we think!