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Interpreting Your Dog's Barking

Though your dog won't "talk" to you in English, you can interpret both her intentions and immediate desires if you know what to listen for. The following table outlines the range of sounds dogs make, providing you with a human translation and the moods behind every utterance.

Overall, a low pitch indicates a more dominant or threatening stance, whereas a high pitch conveys just the opposite — insecurity and fear. A dog whose pitch or vocalization varies is emotionally conflicted. Unsure and unable to properly interpret a situation, this dog needs a lot of direction and interference to feel secure.

Table: Barking Interpreted

Sound Signal

Translation

Condition/Emotions

Rapid strings of three or four barks with pauses between (midrange pitch)

"Gather together. I suspect that there may be something that we should look into."

Alerting call suggesting more interest than alarm in the situation.

Rapid repetitive barking (midrange pitch)

"Call the pack!" "Someone is entering our territory!" "We may need to take some action soon."

Basic alarm bark. Dog is aroused, but not anxious. Initiated by nearing of a stranger or occurrence of an unforeseen event. More insistent than the broken bark.

Continuous barking (a bit slower and lower pitch)

"An intruder (or danger) is very close." "Get ready to defend yourself!"

A more worried form of the alarm bark, which senses imminent threat.

Long string of solitary barks with pauses between each one

"I'm lonely and need companionship." "Is there anybody there?"

Usually triggered by social isolation or confinement.

One or two sharp short barks (high or midrange pitch)

"Hello, there!" "I see you."

Typical greeting or acknowledgment signal. Initiated by arrival, or sight, of a familiar person.

Single sharp short bark (lower midrange pitch)

"Stop that!" "Back off!"

Annoyance bark when disturbed from sleep, hair is pulled, and so on.

Single sharp short bark (higher pitched)

"What's this?" "Huh?"

Sign of being surprised or startled.

Single bark, more deliberate in delivery, and not as sharp or short as above (mid to upper midrange pitch)

"Come here!"

Often a learned communication, which tries to signal a human response, such as opening a door, giving food, and so on.

Stutter bark (for example, "ar-Ruff!")

"Let's play."

Usually given with front legs flat on the ground and rear held high as a play invitation.

Rising bark

"This is fun!" "Let's go!"

Excitement bark during play or in anticipation of play, as in the master throwing a ball.

Soft low-pitched bark (seems to come from the chest)

"Back off!" "Beware!"

From a dominant dog who is annoyed or is demanding that others should move away from her.

Growl-bark (low pitched "Grrrrr-Ruff")

"I'm upset, and if you push me, I will fight!" "Pack mates, rally round me for defense!"

A somewhat less dominant sign of annoyance, asking for help from pack members.

Growl-bark (higher midrange pitch)

"You frighten me, but I will defend myself if I have to!"

A worried threat from a dog who isn't confident but will use aggression is pressed.

Undulating growl (pitch rises and falls)

"I'm terrified!" "If you come at me I may fight, but I also may run."

This is the fearful-aggressive sound of a very unsure dog.

Yip-howl ("yip-yip-yip-howl, with the howl prolonged)

"I'm lonely." "Is there anybody there?"

Triggered by isolation from family and other dogs.

Howl (often sonorous and prolonged)

"I'm here!" "This is my territory!" "I hear your howls."

Dogs use this to announce their presence, socialize over a distance, and declare territory. Although it may sound sad to a human, the dog is quite content.

Bark-howl ("for example, "Ruff-Ruff-howl")

"I'm worried and alone." "Why doesn't somebody come to be with me?"

A mournful sound of a dog who is lonely and isolated, but fears that nobody will respond to its call.

Baying

"Follow me!" "All together now!" "I've got the scent, so keep close!"

A hunting call from a dog that has the scent, is tracking the quarry, and is assuring that his pack mates are alerted and near for assistance.

Whining that rises in pitch at the end of the sound (may sound like it is mixed with a bit of a yelp)

"I want . . ." "I need . . ."

A request or plea for something. Louder and more frequent means strong emotion behind the plea.

Whining that drops in pitch at the end of the sound or simply fades with no pitch change.

"Come on now! Let's go!"

Usually indicates excitement and anticipation, such as when waiting for food to be served or a ball to be thrown.

Soft whimpering

"I hurt." "I'm really frightened."

A fearful passive/submissive sound that occurs in adults as well as puppies.

Moan-yodel (for example, "Yowel-wowel-owel-wowel") or Howl-yawn (for example, a breathy "Hooooooo-ah-hooooo")

"I'm excited! Let's do it!" "This is great!"

Pleasure and excitement signals when something the dog likes is about to happen. Each dog will settle on one of these sounds to express this emotion.

Single yelp (may sound like a very short high-pitched bark)

"Ouch!"

A response to sudden, unexpected pain.

Series of yelps

"I'm really scared!" "I'm hurting!" "I'm out of here!" "I surrender!"

An active response to fear and pain, usually given when the dog is running away from a fight or a painful encounter.

Screaming (may sound like a child in pain combined with a prolonged yelp)

"Help! Help!" "I think I'm dying!"

A sign of pain and panic from a dog who is fearful for its life.

Panting

"I'm ready!" "When do we start?" "This is incredible!" "This is intense!" "Is everything okay?"

Simple sound of stress, excitement, or tense anticipation.

Sighs

"I'm content and am going to settle down here awhile." "I'll give up now and simply be depressed."

A simple emotional signal that terminates an action. If the action has been rewarding, it signals contentment. Otherwise, it signals an end of effort.

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