What does your dog’s barking mean? Think of your dog’s vocalisations as their way of talking to you, expressing a whole range of emotions and needs. From joyful barking during training to heart-wrenching whining when there’s a thunderstorm, each sound provides a glimpse into their minds and hearts.
Understanding what your dog is trying to say gives you a backstage pass into their world, fostering a deeper connection between you and your beloved four-legged friend.
Barking is your dog’s main form of communication. They have a diverse bark vocabulary, each carrying its own distinct message. Knowing what they mean can help you better understand what’s occupying your dog’s attention.
High-pitched barking, no pauses in between: Time to break out those doggie toys! Accompanied with a wagging tail, this type of barking is your dog inviting you or one of their friends to play with them.
Rapid barking, with pauses in between: This translates to, “Hey, pay attention!” Take a look around to see what’s concerning your dog. This may be in response to an unfamiliar person, animal, or even some form of danger.
Single barks, with long pauses in between: Your dog is feeling lonely, and they’re letting everybody know. Bring them to whichever room you’re staying in, leave them with toys, or (if you can) get them a companion that they can play with.
Single, high-pitched bark: Ouch! Your pup has stepped on something sharp or uncomfortable, or they’ve been roughhousing a little too much. Take a moment to see if there’s any sort of injury to treat. If there are none, give them a nice little cuddle to let them know everything’s alright.
Single, medium-pitched bark: You hear this often with older dogs hanging around puppies that are a little too lively for their taste. It’s not necessarily an aggressive vocalisation, just a statement that your dog wants to be left alone for a little while.
One or two short, medium-pitched barks: Your dog is telling you, “Hello!” Whether you’re coming home from work or returning to your room from the faraway land of your kitchen, your dog will always be happy to see you and will always let you know.
Whimpering, whining, or crying
Hearing dogs whimpering, whining, or crying will break any dog lover’s heart, whether they own the dog making the noise or not. Find out what’s making your dog make these sounds. They’re in pain, uncomfortable, or frightened.
Your dog is feeling excited: Dogs “crying” may not always mean there’s something bothering them. They might just be overwhelmed with excitement over things like family members coming home after a long time, a delicious meal, or a new toy.
Your dog is getting anxious: Dogs start to whine or whimper when in a situation that’s scaring them, such as going to an unfamiliar place or going to the vet. If your dog cries every time you leave the house, however, that may be a sign of separation anxiety, which you can treat with proper training and enrichment, like exercising.
Your dog is asking for attention: Your pup may be whining because they’re in dire need of attention from you. Always take time out of your day to show your dog some love and affection through good ol’ belly rubs and scratches behind their ears!
Your dog is in pain: When your dog cries out, there’s a possibility that they’ve been injured or they’re suffering from an illness. If there aren’t any visible marks on them, take them to the vet in case they’re sick.
Have you ever heard a wolf cry to the blue corn moon, or asked your little puppy why they sing? It’s hard to think of your pup as a predator out in the wild, but howling is proof that they’re descended from wolves. Next time your dog sings you the song of their people, try to understand what they’re trying to say.
Your dog is trying to communicate with other dogs: If you’ve seen 101 Dalmatians, you know this. When dogs begin to howl, think of it as them sitting at a radio station, broadcasting their message to others within earshot. Wolves out in the wild use this to check on the other members of their pack.
Your dog is feeling excited or stressed: The key to finding out which is which is to check for environmental context (is everything all right? Or is there a thunderstorm?) and other body language signals. If your dog is hopping around with their tail wagging to high heaven, it probably means they’re feeling excited. But if they’re sitting down, tail unmoving, or pacing restlessly, there may be something bothering them.
Your dog is trying to “sing”: Get ready for an impromptu karaoke night! Dogs howl in response to high-pitched sounds, like sirens or an instrument like a harmonica playing. Huskies and Beagles are well-known examples of dogs who “sing”. They may not exactly get the Golden Buzzer, but they sure are doing their best!
For humans, grumbling sounds like you’re dissatisfied with something, like when you’re asked to do something you’d rather not do.
In some cases, it’s the same for dogs. They grumble out of displeasure, like when they’re approached while they’re resting. It’s a form of setting boundaries without escalating things—like saying, “Hey, leave me alone.”
Alternatively, they also grumble when they’re feeling content, like if they’re shifting positions while taking a nap. It’s the same sound we make when we’re stretching or getting ourselves in a comfortable position!
Growling is like your dog’s built-in alarm system. It’s a clear sign of discomfort or a response to what they see as a threat.
As with other dog vocalisations, growling has different meanings depending on the context. Does your dog look relaxed and is wagging their tail? They’re probably growling to express joy and an invitation to continue the interaction. If their growling is deeper with a more intense tone, however, your dog might be feeling defensive or aggressive. This may happen when they’re guarding something, like their food or their toys.
It’s important not to punish a dog for growling, as they may skip the growling stage when they’re feeling threatened and snap immediately. If you’re able to, remove them from the situation, or have them go to another room or their crate to calm down. This involves quite a bit of training.
Your dog has their own way of expressing to you their needs and wants. It isn’t just noise—it’s a heart-to-heart dialogue, a language of love, trust, and everything in between. Take the time to listen and learn what they’re trying to tell you, so that your “conversations” with them are as rich and as vibrant as their unique voices.