The Petfix vet spot on the Today Show: barking, meowing and purring


Thanks to Petfix, I’ve started a new series of Vet Spots on RTE’s Today Show. This means a trip to Cork every fortnight these days, which adds to life’s variety, even though COVID means that it’s not any sort of social occasion.

This week, we discussed vocalisation in pets.

Dog vocalisation

The sound of barking varies from a deep ‘whoaaa whoaaa’ to a high pitched ‘yip yip yip’. The effect on any human hearing system within twenty yards is dramatic. The natural response is to move away rapidly.

The bark of a dog has evolved along similar principles as the cry of a young baby. The tone and pitch of these sounds stimulates a part of the human brain which could be called the ‘irritability centre’. When this happens, humans need to take immediate action – it is almost impossible to calmly ignore either a loudly barking dog or a screaming young baby.

Fortunately, most dogs only bark occasionally. In fact, most owners appreciate the bark of their dog. Dogs can make very effective substitutes for elaborate electronic burglar alarm systems.

Most dogs reserve their barks for appropriate occasions – such as the ring of a door bell, or the presence of a stranger in the garden. When they have alerted their owners to the visitor, dogs usually stop barking. However, barking is not always so easily controlled and it can be annoying for everyone in the house

Excessive barking can also be a problem for neighbours who live within earshot. Some dogs bark intermittently all day (and even all night), and this can cause serious problems with community relations. This type of barking can be difficult to stop. Most dogs will stop barking when they are given attention, but as soon as they are left alone, they often start again. It is part of responsible dog keeping to ensure that your pet is not guilty of irritating the neighbourhood in this way.

It can be difficult to ‘cure’ a barking dog. In North America, vets surgically remove the vocal cords of offending animals. As a result, these dogs can no longer make a loud noise. When they try to bark, a hoarse whisper is produced. This type of ‘treatment’ for barking dogs is frowned upon by European vets:  it’s cruel to remove an animal’s means of communication.

Ultrasonic anti barking devices are said to work by emitting a high-pitched sound when activated. The anti-bark systems detect barking and emit a high-pitched sound in response. But studies who that this does not reliably have any effect on dogs, barking or otherwise.

It’s far better to find out why a dog is barking, and sort it out from that end.

How to stop barking

1) Physical exercise and attention

A dog needs to be walked for at least half an hour, twice daily.

So if you cannot make these time commitments, perhaps you are not ready for a dog

Sometimes doggy daycare or a professional dog walker can help people to meet these needs, but you need to consider this before getting a dog, not after when it’s too late

2) Mental stimulation

Most people now realise that dogs need to be walked. but mental stimulation is equally important as physical exercise.

A dog should not be left alone routinely for more than three hours at a stretch because the lack of mental stimulation will push them towards “bad” behaviour

Mental stimulation examples include

  • enrichment toys (e.g.  Kongs, K9 Connectables, and a few other toys, all of which can be bought at the Petfix Store)
  • trick training
  • dog sports
  • scent work

Finding the right balance between their physical and mental needs is important, otherwise behavioural problems will follow.

Training should be an-going lifetime commitment which will lead to a better understanding and a closer bond with their dog. It’s also fun!

  • Owners should contact reputable, accredited dog trainers who practice ethical, scientific, reward based training methods.
  • The dog training industry is unregulated in Ireland, so you need to do your research before choosing a dog trainer, to ensure that they are using best practice.
  • You should routinely plan to spend around 15 -20 minutes a day training your dog or working on mental stimulation, in short bursts of 5 -10 minutes
  • You should plan to attend dog training classes in first six months as a minimum, and ideally, for life at some level

3) Curing annoying barking

First, identify any obvious cues. Eg one dog barked furiously when he saw passers-by at his gate: the bark was cured by putting up screening on the gate so that he could no longer see people, and the visual prompt was removed

Second, you can train a dog to bark on command (the “speak” command) and you can then use this to train a dog to be quiet (i.e. they don’t bark when you don’t use the command.

Cat vocalisation

Cats either miaow or purr, and both are much quieter and less annoying than dogs barking. They also yowl and hiss.


Cats miaow to get our attention. I once accidentally trained my cat to miaow for food, because every time she miaowed, I fed her. When her loud miaow began to annoy me, I had to remind myself that it was my fault! I then began to deliberately feed her at times when she was NOT miaowing (so I was rewarding her for being quiet) and that solved the annoying loud meow.

Older cats often go deaf, and they start to meow louder than ever because they can’t hear their own voice.


People think that cats purr when happy but it is more complex than that.

It has been said that cats purr “when they have a friend and when they need a friend”

So yes, cats purr when contented, but I have also seen cats with a broken leg purring loudly as they are examined.

They say that cat’s purr is healing for humans: it is meant to promote more rapid fixing of broken bones!

Yowls and hisses

Cats yowl and hiss at each other if in conflict: the sound of back yard fights can be frightening. It is often more noise than action: cats know that if they get into physical tussles, they may be hurt, so they try to avoid this by intimidating the opposition with noise.

To watch the video from the Today Show, click on the Youtube video  above.

The Petfix Club Youtube channel has other interesting videos going on too – check it out!

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