As every dog owner knows, dogs talk to you in a series of whimpers, whines, groans, growls, and barks. Each sound means something and helps your dog convey their own personal language to their people. When it comes to the most prominent barks our dogs have, each sound has a different meaning behind it. So, what are they trying to say?
Let’s explore the language of our furry four-legged pups, so we can learn about them even more. Understanding these forms of communication can help strengthen your bond as a team.
About the Bark!
According to Stanley Coren PhD., when it comes to vocalizations, they can be broken down into three different ways: pitch, duration, and frequency. You can use this method to recognize the mood or meaning of the bark.
Pitch—pitches can range from low to high. Lower pitches tend to mark aggression, suspicion, or cautiousness, while higher pitches usually show playfulness, excitement, or eagerness.
Duration—the duration of a bark can indicate whether the dog is feeling threatened, fearful, or dominant. Longer, lower tones indicate the dog will not back down if a threat is imminent. Alternatively, shorter bursts could mean the dog is more fearful.
Frequency—the sounds that repeatedly happen usually point to enthusiasm or urgency. Barking briefly can signal an interest while barking on repeat can mean your dog really thinks something significant is afoot.
Combining these three aspects of a bark determines whether it’s time to play or show concern. Each dog may bark differently. One may be more vocal or make different sounds than another.
1. The “Let’s Play” Bark – Harr-ruff
Everyone knows this bark. It’s time for activities. They may have spotted you heading towards their leash hanger. They may hear your keys rattle. Whatever the excitement, they know it’s time for fun, and they’re down to partake. Their bodies are wiggly, and they may even crouch down with their butt up—ready to romp.
This bark usually makes a “harr-uff” sound and is playful in spirit, not aggressive or irritated. It’s always a sign of happiness. The only downfall is the hurt feelings that follow if things don’t go the way they think.
2. The “Notice Me” Bark – Spaced Barks While Staring
All owners know this one—it’s the one your dog gives you while you’re scrolling through Facebook, totally ignoring them. They may be sitting there with their favorite ball or standing with their tails wagging—waiting to be recognized.
Suddenly, you hear a low grumble with a quiet “woof” at the end, and your eyes glance over. They’ve had you in their sites the whole time. Once you give in, everything else is history.
3. The Anticipation Bark – Excited Yelps
You have made eye contact and somehow told them something is imminent. They know things are about to get real, but you haven’t made the full reveal yet. They stare at you intently, bottoms bopping to and fro. A low roar mutters from their tightly pursed lips, followed by an excited few high-pitch yelps.
It’s like a child waiting to open a giant box at Christmas. But the best thing is, instead of it being something extravagant, they would be happy with just a quick trip in the car. Aren’t dogs so easily satisfied?
4. The Alert-Master Bark – Harsh, Gruff Tone
Suspicious goings-on have been detected—sites are locked and loaded. It’s time to alert the house. This bark tells you someone or something is out of place, and they aren’t going to let it slide. Their body language may be confusing, as the tail could tuck or wag depending on the dog.
Maybe someone is walking up to your porch with a package. Perhaps, they don’t quite trust that mailman walking by. No matter what they think is going on, this bark lets you know you need to assess the situation.
5. The Fraidy Cat Bark – A Piercing Yelp
This bark sounds when your dog is surprised by something totally unexpected. You could’ve walked up behind them or touched them when they were in a zone. Or, they may have encountered a new creature or object that’s unfamiliar—all at once, this thing moves, yikes!
All of a sudden, they let out a sharp, loud squeal followed by ears going down, and their tail wagging when they see it was nothing too scary.
6. The “Is This Guy Bothering You?” Bark – Growl + Bark
This bark is how some dogs greet strangers—cautiously welcoming. They go up to a person, step back and bark to proclaim this is a new individual they don’t know, and they aren’t sure of this person’s intentions.
They may bark a few times until they’re sure how to approach the new person. If they see this isn’t a threat and there is nothing to be concerned about, they’ll probably greet this strange person and go about their business.
7. The Lonely, Good Boy Bark – Single, Spaced Barks
Did you leave your little one lonely? This bark is usually indicating that this dog is wanting companionship. Maybe you’ve put them in the fence out back, and they’re ready to come in. Maybe you have put them in their kennel, and they feel forgotten.
If you see them, they are probably sitting there all sad, looking pitiful. Regardless of why they are lonely, your dog is letting anyone know that they could really go for some company right about now.
8. The Serious Bark – Bark + Growl
Look out! The threat has officially crossed a line, and your dog isn’t happy. Did you put a Halloween mask on to scare your dog? Is there a strange group of people at the door? Your dog is ready to act. They are likely showing their teeth to display their weapon of choice, scaring off anyone who dare charge
This protective instinct can be called off, especially with well-trained dogs. Showing them that there is no reason to feel threatened can calm the situation.
9. The “Ouch” Bark – Whining and Yelping
The ouch bark consists of whining and fussing along with barks of pain or displeasure. This can happen if they get their paw trapped or someone sat on their tail. It can also occur when playtime between two pooches just gets too rough.
Playtime may need to be broken up, or you may need to rescue them from a painful predicament.
10. The “Look At That” Bark – Wooh Wooh
Your dog sounds this bark when they’re curious and want you to notice what they notice. It’s usually a precursor to the acknowledgment or further action. They haven’t decided whether to be frazzled or excited, so they are testing the waters to check things out.
This bark can be the start of a full-fledged bark attack where they try to scare off an intruder. Or, they may relax and be completely okay with the situation. It all depends on what’s going on.
11. The Love Call – Happy Sounds
Mixed with a growl and wagging tail, the love call is one you’ll hear most as an owner. They are living in the moment, soaking up all the belly rubs you want to give them. They respond this way when you show them physical attention, rolling around to show you their belly.
This bark mixed with roars and groans of happiness signal that your pooch is pleased—and probably very spoiled, which is a wonderful thing.
Understanding your dog’s language, both vocally and bodily, will help you react to situations appropriately. You’ll quickly learn how each specific dog reacts to stimuli, which will vary from pooch to pooch. It’s so interesting to see just how each doggy personality shows self-expression in the spectrum of emotions. Aren’t dogs amazing?
Featured image credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock
- About the Bark!
- 1. The “Let’s Play” Bark – Harr-ruff
- 2. The “Notice Me” Bark – Spaced Barks While Staring
- 3. The Anticipation Bark – Excited Yelps
- 4. The Alert-Master Bark – Harsh, Gruff Tone
- 5. The Fraidy Cat Bark – A Piercing Yelp
- 6. The “Is This Guy Bothering You?” Bark – Growl + Bark
- 7. The Lonely, Good Boy Bark – Single, Spaced Barks
- 8. The Serious Bark – Bark + Growl
- 9. The “Ouch” Bark – Whining and Yelping
- 10. The “Look At That” Bark – Wooh Wooh
- 11. The Love Call – Happy Sounds