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.
|Condition / Emotions|
|Rapid strings of three or four barks with pauses between
“Gather together. I suspect that there may be something
|Alerting call suggesting more interest than alarm in the
|Rapid repetitive barking (midrange pitch)
“Call the pack!“
|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
|A more worried form of the alarm bark, which senses imminent
|Long string of solitary barks with pauses between each
“I‘m lonely and need
|Usually triggered by social isolation or confinement.|
|One or two sharp short barks (high or midrange pitch)
|Typical greeting or acknowledgment signal. Initiated by
arrival, or sight, of a familiar person.
|Single sharp short bark (lower midrange pitch)
|Annoyance bark when disturbed from sleep, hair is pulled, and
|Single sharp short bark (higher pitched)
|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)
|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!”)
|Usually given with front legs flat on the ground and rear held
high as a play invitation.
“This is fun!“
|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)
|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
|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
|A worried threat from a dog who isn’t confident but will use
aggression is pressed.
|Undulating growl (pitch rises and falls)
|This is the fearful-aggressive sound of a very unsure dog.|
|Yip-howl (“yip-yip-yip-howl, with the howl prolonged)
|Triggered by isolation from family and other dogs.|
|Howl (often sonorous and prolonged)
|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
|A mournful sound of a dog who is lonely and isolated, but fears
that nobody will respond to its call.
|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
|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 . . .“
|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.
|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
|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
|A response to sudden, unexpected pain.|
|Series of yelps
“I‘m really scared!“
|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
|A sign of pain and panic from a dog who is fearful for its
|Simple sound of stress, excitement, or tense anticipation.|
“I‘m content and am going to settle down
|A simple emotional signal that terminates an action. If the
action has been rewarding, it signals contentment. Otherwise, it
signals an end of effort.