Does your dog bark at the TV, the mailman, when he’s hungry or wants to play? Have you ever noticed a difference between each bark? Next time your dog barks, listen closely… is it high or low-pitch, fast and short barks or long drawn out?
We all dream about what it would be like if our dogs could talk. But wait, they do talk! We just don’t always listen or understand their language.
A dogs bark can tell you a lot about his personality too! A dogs bark can tell us if they are afraid, sad, happy or even hurt.
I am so intrigued by our dog’s language and learning how to communicate with dogs. In fact, I already wrote about dog body language. Now let’s learn how to understand your dog’s bark.
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Learning what your dog’s bark is saying can help you understand his true feelings. Plus, once you understand WHY your dog is barking, you can control it by teaching him not to bark.
A dog’s bark will change pitches, length, and frequency. From a series of sharp barks to alarm you or a whining bark caused by separation anxiety.
It’s also very important to watch your dog’s body language and to review the entire situation.
Think of it this way… as humans, we cry because we are happy, and we cry because we are sad… the only way to know the difference is to know the situation. You may scream with joy, or you may scream in anger… to know the difference we listen to the tone of voice and the situation.
It’s the same with dogs. Even though a dogs body language and barking are universal, every dog and situation are unique.Even though a dogs body language and barking are universal, every dog and situation are unique.
A high-pitch bark is used as friendly communication. Possibly during playtime or when the dog is excited.
A low-pitch bark or growl is used for warnings of threats, territorial or maybe even aggression.
High-pitch vs. low will depend on your dog. Smaller dogs may not have the capability to bark in a lower pitch. I notice the difference even with my 90 lb. yellow lab (Bear) and our 60 lb. mutt (Ginger). They will both be barking at the same thing and yet Ginger’s bark is more high-pitched than Bears’.
The longer your dog barks, the more intense he feels the situation is. In dogs that have separation anxiety, you may notice they can bark for hours. This is because they feel the urgent need to be with their person or pack.
A single bark may be a simple warning of a sound or letting you know it’s time to eat dinner.
Before we moved out to the country with 5 acres, we would frequent our local dog parks at least once a week. Without fail, every time we would hear at least one dog barking that should not have been in a dog park.
For me, it was obvious because I knew what to listen for. But I guess it wasn’t so obvious for that dog owner. A fearful or aggressive bark is distinct and once you know what to listen for you’ll be able to pick it up in a crowded dog park, just like I am.
Below is a quick review chart of the different types of barks and their purpose.
Sound: Rapid 2-4 mid to low-pitched, barks with pauses in between
Your dog feels there may be an issue or intruder near and is asking you to check it out. The lower the pitch, the closer the threat is and the more threat your dog feels there is.
So the bark may start out as a fast series of 2-3 barks at mid-pitched, and as the threat comes closer or more dangerous, the bark will go to 3-4 barks and a low-pitch.
This may be the most common of dog barks, to alarm you that someone or thing is outside.
Sound: high pitched, short, pauses in between.
Ignore this type of barking. If your dog barks at you for your attention for food or play and you give them what they want, they will continue to bark every time they want your attention… well because it works!
Sound: high or medium-pitched, almost happy sounding
Watch your dogs body language and if he is relaxed, possibly in a play bow… he wants to play with your or another dog.
Sound: medium-pitched, ongoing, may include howling.
If your dog barks when he is bored, you can solve this easily with more exercise!
Sound: low-pitched, sometimes intermittent with growling
This can be very scary sounding, and usually will start out as a growl. Then if the growl isn’t working, will escalate to a single or series of barks.
Watch the dog’s body language! A stiff body and teeth showing, are signs of resource guarding.
It’s actually very natural for a dog to guard his belongings. Read my story about living with a resource guarding dog.
Sound: high-pitched sporadic, watch body language to confirm
The best way to be sure your dog is fearful is to watch his body language. A stiff body, ears pulled back, tight lips are all signs of fear.
If we are talking about our dogs’ voices, then I can’t skip over growling. While I would not generalize a growl with barking, dogs do use growling to communicate.
Most humans believe a growl is an automatic sign of aggression. But I can tell you my personal experience that some dogs growl while playing.
Anytime our dog JJ would get excited during playtime, he would start growling and barking. It wasn’t because he was aggressive, but the exact opposite…he was just so happy and excited to be playing.
It’s important to look at the entire situation and the dog’s body language when growling. Is his body stiff and showing teeth? Then it’s safe to assume that the dog is being aggressive. Please read more about your dog’s body language to learn more.
It’s true, certain dog breeds will howl more than others. We’ve all seen the cute videos of husky’s howling or “talking”. But all dogs are capable of howling.
Dogs will howl for a variety of reasons, including:
Some people will categorize these sounds like a dog crying, but they each have their own meanings.
If you’ve ever stepped on your dogs tail or paw by accident he most likely put out a yelp or very high-pitch single bark. And it probably startled the heck out of you, am I right?
Dogs yelp for a few reasons, but usually it’s the result of getting hurt. A yelp is a dogs way of saying, “ouch, that hurt”! If you hear a series of yelps or it continues, then your dog may be seriously injured or very scared.
These sounds are instinctual for dogs, but because humans view whimpering or whining like a dog “crying”, the dog will use this voice to get what he wants. Such as your attention… to eat… to play… to go for a walk.
So, it’s a learned behavior. I cry and my mom will feed me. I cry and my dad will take me for a walk. I cry and my dad will pet me. Get the idea? If you don’t like the behavior, do not reward it with attention.
Okay, so my dog Bear groans every morning if I don’t get out of bed by 7:30am to feed them breakfast. And he won’t stop until I do! It’s actually funny, but not so much when I’m sound asleep being awakened by his persistence.
Dogs that sigh or groan are letting you know they really want your attention and you aren’t giving it to them quick enough. It’s actually very similar to a child to parent language in that respect… don’t you think?
So that’s it. Now it’s your turn… I’d love to hear some of the stories of your dog’s personality coming through his bark, howl or groan.
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Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, two dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.