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Speaking Your Dog’s Language: What Different Types of Barking Mean

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on July 25, 2018
Posted in Fun

When we were little and learning about animals, one of the first things we probably learned was, “the dog goes ‘woof.’” Dogs are synonymous with their barking, and these sounds are easily recognizable, even when the animal isn’t in view. However, not all barks are the same.

Dog’s don’t use words to communicate like humans do, but that definitely does not mean they aren’t talking to each other, or even that they’re not trying to communicate with us. Your dog probably has a hundred different types of barks it uses to portray different moods and feelings, say different things and get your attention.

While many people may find a dog’s barking annoying, paying close attention to the bark can help us better understand our pets and strengthen our relationship with them. To start learning the “language” of your pooch, you’ll need to understand the basic ways dogs vary their “speech.”

The basics of “dog speech”

Dogs use a variety of different pitches to portray feelings. They also can vary the time between barks and the duration or number of barks in a row to send different types of messages to us.

1. Pitch

The pitch of your dog’s barking can vary wildly and is one of the best ways to determine what kind of message it is sending. In general, low pitches are negative in nature, usually portraying anger, aggression and fear.

In contrast, high pitches usually indicate that your dog feels happy or content. High pitches can also show other dogs or animals that the dog is safe to approach and harmless.

2. Time between barks

How much time elapses between barks is a good indicator for how urgent or excited your dog feels. If there is a long pause between barks or sounds, it’s probably less urgent. If your dog is barking rapidly without much time between each, it probably feels that the thing it’s paying attention to is important.

3. Duration

The length of the sound usually shows how certain your dog is of something. If it’s producing a long, drawn out bark or growl, it’s probably standing its ground. If the barks are short and clipped, it might be more fearful or unsure.

Examples of dog barks and what they mean

Every dog is different and will have its own unique sounds to convey its thoughts and feelings, but there are quite a few sounds that are nearly universal to the dog species. In general, if your dog is making these kinds of sounds, this is what it’s trying to convey:

  • Low-pitched bark and growl: A series of deep-sounding barks followed by drawn-out growls means your dog is on the defensive and is feeling aggressive or angry. Overall, this type of sound means, “stay away.”
  • A few short high-pitched barks: One or two medium- to high-pitched barks are usually a greeting for a human or familiar dog. These barks are happy and not urgent.
  • Fast-paced string of barks: If your dog is barking consistently at a medium-range pitch, it is the classic “alarm bark.” This bark is to draw others’ attention to something and to indicate its importance, whether that is an intruder in the home, a squirrel or an unfamiliar dog on the property.
  • Single low-pitch bark: One lower-pitched bark followed by silence is usually a type of warning, meaning “stop doing that.” It’s most likely used when your dog is annoyed, not angry.
  • Single yelp: One high-pitched yelp from your pooch is probably a sign of pain. This “ouch!” might be because someone stepped on its tail or bonked it with an object.
  • Whimpering or whining: A series of soft, high-pitched whimpers or whines usually indicates your dog is scared, lonely or in pain. These sounds are pretty submissive and call for your attention or companionship.
  • “Harr-uff”: This unmistakable sound means your pooch is ready to play. It’s probably in a jovial mood and bouncing around, ready to have fun.

Stopping your dog from barking constantly

As much as we may love to communicate with our dogs, there may be a point where barking becomes incessant and frustrating. Behavioral training is the best way to curb obnoxious barking in dogs. This uses a system of rewards to train your dog to bark when appropriate and quiet when told to calmly. Never yell at your dog, as this might just get it more excited and make it bark more.

If your dog is bored or lonely, it will also be more likely to bark. Take your pup for more walks and runs or play with it more often so it gets tired out. A sleepy puppy tends to be much quieter.

With more patience and attention, you’ll get to learn your dog’s way of communicating in no time. When this happens, you’ll be able to tend to your dog’s needs faster and keep it happy.

Read also: Taking Your Pet on the Road

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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