Interpreting Your Dog’s Barking

By Stanley Coren, Sarah Hodgson

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.

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

Im 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)

Whats 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!”)

Lets play.

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

This is fun!
Lets 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”)

Im 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)

Im 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)

Im lonely.
Is there anybody there?

Triggered by isolation from family and other dogs.
Howl (often sonorous and prolonged)

Im 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”)

Im worried and
alone.

Why doesnt 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!
Ive 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! Lets 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.
Im 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”)

Im excited! Lets 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

Im really scared!
Im hurting!
Im 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 Im dying!

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

Im ready!
When do we start?
This is incredible!
This is intense!
Is everything okay?

Simple sound of stress, excitement, or tense anticipation.
Sighs

Im content and am going to settle down
here awhile.

Ill 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.