Dog bark meanings have confused devoted pet owners for ages. Sometimes it's obvious what dogs are trying to tell us when they bark, like when they yap around dinnertime or when they howl after someone rings the doorbell. But on other occasions, our pooches seem to bark at nothing. As devoted pet owners, we like to believe we understand what our dogs are trying to tell us — and if you pay attention to key characteristics of their woofs, you can become an expert in dog speak.
There are three factors you need to pay attention to when analyzing a dog's bark: frequency, pitch, and duration.
- Frequency: A short burst of woofs is intended to grab your attention; whether it's due to fear or excitement depends on context.
- Pitch: Frightened dogs are known to give off high-pitched barks, while dogs who feel threatened may emit low-pitched barks or growls. "High-pitched" and "low-pitched" will depend on what kind of dog you have. A teeny-tiny Yorkie will have a much different bark than a towering German shepherd, no matter the pitch.
- Duration: Short, clipped barks often indicate that a dog is excited or startled, while a prolonged series of barks and growls may mean something else entirely.
What Different Types of Dog Barks Mean
Dog barks fall into general categories that can at least give you a loose idea what he or she wants.
Age-Related Barking: As dogs get older, their cognitive abilites decline. Canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as canine dementia, can cause your senior dog to become confused and withdrawn. As a result, he or she may bark for a variety of reasons, including being scared, disoriented, or frightened. It's often difficult to determine why a dog is barking if she has canine dementia, so do your best to make your old girl feel safe and comfortable.
Alert Barking: When a stranger approaches or the deliveryman rings the doorbell, your dog will let out an alarm bark to let you know that something's happening. All pet owners should be very familiar with this type of barking and should be able to recognize that their pup is trying to get their attention. Alert or alarm barks usually begin with a short high-pitched yelp followed by a short burst of deeper barks. Usually the woofs subside when the stranger passes or your dog realizes whatever has greebed his attention isn't a threat.
Compulsive Barking: Almost anything can set off a compulsive barker: birds, passersby, strange noises, and even family members. Often, the root cause is boredom or fear — both of which can be cured over time with lots of TLC. If your dog is bored, buy him stimulating toys, take him to the dog park, or burn some calories walking with him around the neighborhood. Fearful dogs may require training to overcome whatever is causing their anxiety.
Demand Barking: Just like human kids, your fur babies may resort to screaming (or barking) to get you to give into their demands. Most of the time, your dog will bark or whine for food, toys, or attention. Unfortunately, pet owners are often to blame for this kind of barking. Maybe you gave your dog a small bite of your leftovers because he was giving you the saddest puppy dog eyes. Well, now he's learned that you will give in to him, and if he barks or whines, you may surrender treats even faster. To curb your dog's demanding barks, stop giving in! Ignore his whines and woofs, and eventually your pooch will learn that barking isn't going to get him anywhere and he'll stop.
Howling: Does your dog howl when a firetruck goes by? He's actually trying to alert other dogs that something is up. A dog may also howl to warn other dogs to stay away or to notify his dog friends about where he is. Certain types of dogs are bred to howl when they find something, like hunting hounds who cry when they find game.
Play Barking: Short, high-pitched, playful, and loud yips and yaps are common when dogs start roughhousing. If a group of dogs is playing at the park, they may each take on different roles. One dog may be the "referee" while another plays the part of "cheerleader" while barking on the sidelines.
Solitary Barking: Separation anxiety is a real issue for certain dogs that can lead to solitary barking, which may sound like long barks, whines, or howling interrupted by intentional pauses. Lonely dogs are listening for a response during these moments of silence. Usually, dogs who exhibit this behavior are simply lonely and looking for companionship.
Just because we don't speak the same language as our dogs doesn't mean they don't have a lot they want to tell us. Instead of getting annoyed the next time they start yapping, pay attention to their vocalizations. With a bit of practice, you'll be the good boy (or girl!) for knowing the difference between "Feed me!" and "I'm scared!"