Dogs communicate in lots of different ways including: body language, scent, tail wagging, and barking!
If you have ever lived with a dog, it won’t have escaped your attention that many dogs communicate through barking.
A quick “woof” here, a yap there and maybe even a growl or howl.
Humans are pretty good at understanding dog barks. We can tell when a dog’s bark is aggressive, playful, or scared; but what else do they mean?
Keep on reading to find out what some of the most common dog barks mean. We also share how to translate what your furry friend is trying to tell you.
Table of Contents
Dog Bark Meaning
Dogs don’t just bark to wind humans up, although the neighbors might think differently.
Each and every dog bark has a different meaning.
Dogs bark as a way of communicating with us, but it’s not their only method of communication. Body language and their environment should also be taken into account when interpreting a dog.
Listen up and pay attention when a dog is barking because they are trying to tell you something! Each one has a specific emotion attached to it.
According to the American Psychological Association humans can tell the difference between dog barks, even if they have never owned a dog before.
Humans can listen to a dog’s bark and correctly categorize it as one of three emotions:
It is likely that dogs actually evolved to bark as a way of communicating with humans, rather than each other. This would make sense when you think that you only ever hear wolves howl, rather than bark in the way dogs do.
But it isn’t as simple as a ‘woof’.
There are several parts that your dog will change in order to communicate how they are feeling:
Pitch is how deep the bark is.
A low-pitched bark is an indication that your dog means business. It is a sign they are being serious, and is used as a warning or to ward off danger.
It is common for working dogs like livestock guardians to have low-pitched barks to ward off predators or strangers.
A higher pitch means that a dog is feeling playful or excited. Just like humans increase their voice in pitch when excited or happy, a dog will do the same.
They are also more likely to use higher-pitched barks when alone.
It is worth considering the size of your dog when you try to understand pitch.
Bigger dogs will naturally have a deeper bark than a smaller dog.
Even when excited and playful, your Labrador or German Shepherd will probably still have a deeper bark than your Chihuahua or Cavapoo.
Frequency means how many times your dog barks in one short period of time. It is a measure of how long they leave off between each one.
Some dogs bark lots of times in quick succession, while others leave long pauses.
Frequency can be a clue for how riled up and serious they are about making a noise.
Lots of quick barks in a row means that your dog is very worked up and worried about something. They are worried enough that they are making plenty of noise in order to let you know just how concerned they are.
If your dog makes one bark and no more noise, it is likely something caught them off-guard or they are investigating.
Long pauses between barks can mean that your dog is lonely and calling out to see if anyone will pay them attention.
Duration is how long each individual bark lasts.
On one end of the scale is a ‘yip’ or ‘yap’.
These ‘yips’ are often high pitched and in quick succession. They usually mean playtime and is a dog’s equivalent of saying “come on, come on, come on!”
On the other end of the scale is a long, drawn-out howl.
Howls can mean your dog might be sad or lonely. Howls are often used as their way of complaining about being left alone or being made to do something they don’t want to do.
Certain breeds like Malamutes and Huskies are known for howling.
Types of Dog Barks
It is never quite as simple as just listening to a bark to know what your dog is thinking.
Every dog has their own bark, just like how humans have their own unique voices and accents.
You need to take into account their body language, temperament, environment and how they react to certain situations.
Luckily, there are some common barks that most dogs use:
- Ruff Ruff
- High pitched yap
- Low pitched growl
We have decoded some of the most common ones to make it easy for you to understand exactly what your dog is trying to tell you!
This is a high pitch double bark that your dog will make continuously with little space between each noise.
Ruff Ruff is a very common and standard bark.
This is the noise even a child would make when asked “What noise does a dog make?”.
The reason everyone thinks of this as normal is because it is the noise we most commonly hear from dogs, especially when out on the streets where we see dogs in parks or their back garden.
A “ruff ruff” bark means “Let’s play!” in dog language.
It is the noise they make when they are excited, in anticipation for something.
Your dog might “ruff ruff” when they see you putting on your usual walking shoes, or when they turn the street corner on the way to their favorite dog park.
This bark is often paired with playful body language.
Your dog might go into a bowed position with their front legs wide apart and their bum in the air. They will have a very waggy tail with their ears pricked forward and they might even have a big smile on their face too!
A dog yelping often means they have hurt themselves.
Yelp translates to “ow!” in English and is usually heard when they experience a short, sharp pain. It is not always painful, and can sometimes be caused by a shock!
This noise is similar to how we might cry out if we stub our toe or burn ourselves.
You will have definitely heard this “yelp” noise if you have ever accidentally stood on your dog’s tail or if your dog has ever pricked themselves on a thorn while out on a walk.
A high-pitched, singular “yelp” is an indicator of mild pain that normally clears up quickly.
It is still worth thoroughly checking your dog over if you do hear them make this noise to make sure they have no cuts or lasting injuries.
Just as humans can sound hoarse and lose their voice if they have a sore throat, your dog can too.
A hoarse dog bark can mean anything from a sore throat to something stuck inside their mouth.
Something to consider if your dog suddenly goes hoarse is whether they are a particularly noisy dog.
They might have just lost their voice from all that noise if they spent the last few hours barking.
If the hoarseness is very sudden, and they haven’t been barking, it might be worth checking the inside of their mouth for anything that might have gotten stuck.
If your dog seems a little off-color and not themselves, especially when paired with hoarseness, it is time for a trip to the vet to get them checked out.
Seal / Goose Honk
If there is inflammation in your dog’s larynx, then their airway can become narrow. As air is forced through a narrowed airway, it can make your dog’s bark sound like a seal.
Other things this noise has been described as resembling include a goose-like honk, or a broken squeaky toy.
A goose honk is typical of kennel cough, but any one of the following noises can be an indicator of disease somewhere along your dog’s airway:
- Goose honk
- Broken squeaky toy
One of the above noises might also be an indicator of a disease known as tracheal collapse.
Tracheal collapse causes the rings of the windpipe cave to inwards as your dog breathes in, causing resistance in the air coming into their lungs. The result is a honking-like noise.
This disease is most commonly seen in toy breed dogs such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Shih Tzus.
If your dog has had the all-clear on their health, but they still sound like a seal, it is likely that this is just their normal voice.
A short, quick bark means your dog is surprised by something.
Something has caught them off guard which has made them woof, just like when something makes humans jump.
This could be something as simple as a curtain blowing in the wind, or it could be something more, like another animal coming over the fence into the back garden.
It translates to “Ah!” in human words as your dog is unsure of something.
If something has really alarmed your dog, they might do many short barks in quick succession. The goal of this behavior is to bring their owner’s attention to whatever it is that is worrying them.
When you hear short, quick barks it is probably worth checking out what the fuss is all about.
Three Barks (Mid-pitched)
A dog barking three times in a row means they are alert and have noticed something.
This type of bark is normally a way for them to ask you to check something out for them.
Your dog hasn’t immediately deemed whatever has their attention as dangerous, but they are asking for your help as they might be too cautious to check it out alone.
Dogs will normally bark three times at things like a spider crawling out from the floorboards, or a towel that is bunched up on the floor in a way that is concerning to them.
If they have spied something they aren’t sure about, but don’t immediately want to call “danger!”, they will probably make this type of noise.
After their first blast, they will then take a short break and repeat again.
These barks will be mid-pitched, as they are not worried enough for a low-pitched growl, nor excited enough for a high-pitched yap.
A loud, clear, single woof followed by a long break before the next means your dog is asking for attention.
They are bored or lonely and want someone to play with them or give them a cuddle.
The long and short of it is that they need your attention – whether that is because they are excited and saying hello, they want a cuddle, or they want some food.
Low Pitched Growl
A growl or grumble, followed by a couple of low-pitched barks is a warning signal.
It is your dog’s way of saying that they fear something.
This is a clear signal that gives a warning to back off and to not come any closer.
If your dog’s bark is low-pitched and slow, interrupted with growling, they are warning the other dog away.
Your dog’s body language will be very clear in this situation, likely crouched low and staring directly at whatever it is that is worrying them.
Defensive body language can also include raised hackles, where your dog will try to make themselves as big as possible, and they might bare their teeth too.
High Pitched Dog Bark
There are different types of repeated barks that mean different things.
If the repeated barks are high-pitched and short, it is likely your dog is alerting you to something that is not all that scary!
It may be that they have spied that you’ve left a treat out on the kitchen counter, or that they have seen you pick up the dog leash.
These barks will be high-pitched, with barely time to breathe between each one.
If your dog has a high-pitched, quick bark and they are bowing at another dog, your dog is feeling playful and is asking the other dog to play with them.
A howl is a long, loud, drawn-out bark during which your dog might stretch their neck out and look upwards.
This noise is used by wolves in the wild to alert others of their location.
You might think that a dog howling is them connecting with their inner-wolf!
While your dog might howl for the same reason as wolves, many dogs howl as a way of copying passing sounds like sirens or alarms. Some even howl if we howl at them, or ask them to speak!
Many dogs howl when they are looking for you when you leave the house.
It is not uncommon for a neighbor to report a howling dog, but you might never hear them howl.
Whining is a quiet, high-pitched noise that isn’t exactly a bark.
There are a few different reasons why dogs whine:
There are a few reasons why a dog might be whining, so paying attention to their body language and the environment is especially important.
A dog whining while standing and looking at something is usually begging.
If they are whining and staring directly at food on your plate, this is their way of trying to politely ask for some.
Whining can be a sign of anxiety in dogs, both in a positive and negative context.
Your dog may whine in excited anticipation for their walk, or for their dinner to be put down.
However, if your dog is worried about something, they may whine to let you know they’re upset. This is why some dogs whine when sitting in the waiting room at the vets.
Finally, whining can be a sign of pain or distress.
If your dog is licking their lips, stretching, licking a particular area, has their ears back or is showing the whites of their eyes, these are all signs of pain.
Whining paired with any of these behaviors is a signal that you need to contact your vet.
Barking In Their Sleep
A dog barking in their sleep means they are dreaming!
When your dog enters a type of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement, they will dream the same way humans do.
It is nothing to worry about.
Actually, it’s a sign your dog is comfortable and feels safe enough to sleep deeply around you.
Your dog is probably dreaming of a juicy rump steak or a frolic through a field of long grass.
This dream will manifest as them twitching, running, and barking in their sleep.
Dogs bark as a way of communicating with us, but it’s not their only method of communication. Body language, temperament and environment should be taken into account when understanding a bark.
There are 10 common barks that most dogs use and each one means something different.
- The classic “Ruff Ruff” means that your dog wants to play and is ready for some games.
- Three barks in a row means your dog has noticed something they aren’t certain is safe, and they want you to check it out for them.
- A growl or grumble, followed by a couple of low-pitched barks is a clear warning signal to back off and to not come any closer.
- If your dog sounds hoarse, like a seal or a goose honking, it’s worth getting them checked at the vet as they might be unwell.
Dog barks vary in pitch, frequency and duration:
- A low-pitched bark is defensive or aggressive, while a higher-pitched one means your dog is excited.
- Very short, repeated fast barks usually mean your dog is alert and wants to bring your attention to something.
- Long howls could mean that your dog is either lonely and trying to find you, or that they are copying a siren or alarm they have heard.
Let us know your dog’s favorite bark in the comments below.