Jurassic Bark

I thought I had come up with a clever and unique title until I did some web surfing.

Anyone who has even remotely followed our blog is aware that we recently acquired a new puppy – a Cardigan Welsh Corgi we named WynnSome. We had anticipated that getting a puppy would be somewhat of a challenge, but we didn’t anticipate how much more than “somewhat” it would be. Don’t get me wrong, we love Wynn and she makes us laugh at least five times every day, a much needed boost in these trying times.

Coat of Arms for the Cardigan Welch Corgi Club of America. Naturally, they have lots of good things to say about Cardigans

Our decision to get a Cardigan Welsh Corgi was definitely influenced by some of the things we read about the breed. Who would not be impressed by their origins and history? According to one source:

A warrior tribe of Celts brought the corgis in their aboriginal form to Cardiganshire, Wales around 1200 BCE, which means corgis have been in Wales for over 3000 years… The Welsh used the short dogs as herders as early as the 10th century. … Because of their closeness to the ground, corgis had easy access to the cows’ ankles and were difficult targets of the retaliatory kicks of cattle… Some say that the corgi is an “enchanted dog” favored by fairies and elves. At night the magical creatures would use the dogs to pull their carriages and be their steeds in battle.

How special to think we would have an “enchanted” dog! But we didn’t carefully read the fine print when researching Cardigan Corgis. For example, we paid little attention to the fact that this breed has a proclivity to bark, quite piercingly and frequently, which we (and undoubtedly our neighbors) noticed right off the bat.

This clip from Jurassic Park just as well could have been a photo of our neighbors peeking over our fence to learn the source of the seemingly primordial barking.

Consequently, I have been spending a good deal of my time lately looking into the evolutionary origins of dogs and why they bark so much. About their origins, I learned from ThoughtCo.com that

Dogs were only domesticated about 10,000 years ago, but their evolutionary history goes back way further than that–as witness one of the earliest canines yet discovered, Hesperocyon, which lived in North America a whopping 40 million years ago… [Editor’s note: I was really bummed to learn that there were no true dog ancestors barking at dinosaurs during the Jurassic period – kinda makes my title misleading, but I still like it]

Hesperocyon, a prehistoric ancestor of today’s dogs. Unfortunately, no audio recordings of their barking from 45 million years ago have survived (keep in mind that this was long before Spotify).

What I discovered about modern dogs was also fascinating but not particularly encouraging, especially regarding Cardigans. Take for example a post on DogDiscoveries.com:

[Corgis’] large, sensitive radar-dish ears twitch almost constantly and seem to capture sounds that other dogs may fail to notice. It doesn’t help that a corgi’s barking has also” big dog” bark that means business and can pierce your ears… They’ll bark at the noise of wind, car doors opening and closing and even the T.V.

Wynn’s “large, sensitive radar-dish ears” can pick up the sound of dogs barking more than 30 miles away.

The question of why dogs bark is the subject of a number of scientific publications I came across. One that caught me eye was published in Bioacoustics – The International Journal of Animal Sound and its Recording, which I imagine caters to a large audience. It was entitled A bark of its own kind – the acoustics of ‘annoying’ dog barks suggests a specific attention-evoking effect for humans (yes, that’s the actual title). I plowed through the article and understood the part about dog barking being annoying to humans. The rest of the article was over my head.

So you can imagine how relieved I was to come across an analysis of dog barking that I could actually relate to. Furthermore, it turns out that it was written by one of my all time favorite columnists, Dave Barry, who wrote a nationally syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005.

He often wrote about his dogs and their antics. In this particular column he tells about Earnest, his “large main dog” and Zippy, his little “emergency backup dog.” He claims that their most important “duty” is barking:

They use the energy-conserving Two-Dog Alternating Bark Procedure: a deep BARK from Earnest, followed immediately by a high, irritating yip! from Zippy, followed immediately by another BARK, and so on BARK yip! BARK yip! until morning.

They implement this procedure whenever their keen senses detect that one of the following Danger Red Alert situations has occurred:

1. Someone is at the door.
2. No one is at the door.
3. Another dog – any dog, anywhere in the universe – is barking.
4. None of the above.

But what I appreciated most was Dave Barry’s explanation of why dogs bark:

Dogs employ barking as a vital means of communicating important messages, such as: “bark.” Barking also serves a vital biological purpose: If a dog does not release a certain number of barks per day, they will back up, and the dog will explode.

This got me a bit concerned. What if our efforts to suppress Wynn’s barking is putting her in harm’s way? Given the volume and frequency of her barks, coupled with the length of her body, even a short period of suppressed-bark-backup pressure could be fatal. And we certainly wouldn’t want to be responsible for her exploding in her crate one night. This convinced me that our best strategy to deal with Wynn’s excessive barking is, to paraphrase and old idiom, let barking dogs bark.

Now I have to work on getting our neighbors to go along with that strategy.

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