Dog noises and what they mean

Petplan’s dog behaviourist, Nick Jones, looks at why dogs bark and how to decipher what your dog is trying to tell you…

Dogs bark for many reasons: they might be happy to see you or they could be trying to protect you from danger. But how do you know what they’re trying to say?

Why do dogs bark?

There are many reasons why dogs bark, and your dog’s noises will usually have a meaning behind them. Dog barking is a way of expressing distress or excitement, defending territory or merely getting your attention. It is one type of vocalisation that our dogs can use to communicate with us and their fellow furry friends.

Originally, dog barking was an alarm-call function. However, small changes to the sound of these barks have allowed dogs to convey even more messages to people and other dogs alike.

Different pitches of dog barking

To translate your dog’s bark, start with assessing the pitch of the bark:

  • Low pitch – your dog is trying to convey a threatening impression, perhaps as a form of protection to you or themselves. Along with this dominant bark, your dog will seem more aggressive than usual
  • Medium pitch – if this bark is stuttered and combined with a ‘gruffing’ sound, your dog wants to play!
  • High pitch – unlike a low-pitched bark, this means your dog is feeling afraid and insecure. You should assess the situation and try to work out what is distressing them. High-pitched barks are also a way of your dog conveying that they’re safe to approach.

Duration of dog barking

How long your dog’s bark continues for can also indicate what they are trying to convey. For instance, a single yelp usually indicates pain, whereas a series of these high-pitched, short barks may suggest that your dog is afraid of something.

Barks or growls that are low pitched and held for a long time suggest your dog is defending itself and won’t back down. These noises are often accompanied with a strong and stationary stance. However, more frequent barks might indicate your dog may be concerned about a potential attack.

Excessive dog barking

While barking is natural dog behaviour, excessive barking can be a challenge for owners. If a dog barks a lot, it is important to understand the triggers that set them off. Then you will be able to take the appropriate action to correct this behaviour.

Other dog noises

Barks are just one of the ways in which dogs can talk to us. At other times, they may grunt, or emit low sighs or grumbles, to show that they are content around us and other dogs.

Howling reminds us of our dogs’ ancestry: wolves. It is a long-range, pack-assembling form of communication. Few dogs will produce this sound, since it is mostly stimulated in extremely distressing circumstances, such as when they are locked away, alone, or when a dog suffers from separation anxiety.

Puppies can often be heard whining to get attention. If you hear an obvious whining sound, try to figure out what your pup needs – maybe a toilet trip or food.

Understanding your dog’s barks and noises is essential to their care, and helps you to know how your pet is feeling. Always remember that all dogs, like people, are different. An owner will come to understand what their own dog is saying to them as they get to know their canine companion.

How does your dog communicate with you? Tell us on social media using the tag #PethoodStories.

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