Some dogs bark due to boredom, loneliness, or lack of exercise. Others bark incessantly to get attention or release stress.
My dog barks to annoy me.
Just kidding. The truth is, no dog barks just to drive us insane. Dogs bark for many different reasons and now, thanks to some pretty cool studies, we are starting to understand more about our dogs’ unique barks than ever before.
For example, did you know that high energy dogs and highly intelligent dogs can be some of the worst culprits for barking, especially if their barks are not being understood?
That’s because dogs with lots of energy can be prone to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and boredom if their exercise needs are not being consistently met.
And intelligent dogs are no different. Brainy breeds need plenty of mental stimulation to stay happier and – ahem – quieter.
With that being said, your dog’s incessant barking could be his way of telling you to get off your lazy buns and take him for a jog, or your furry Einstein may be insisting that you buy him some cool puzzle toys.
But along with alerting us to stress, boredom, lack of exercise, and a desperate need for mental stimulation, dogs bark to communicate with us. Yes, that’s right. I said us. Humans.
Here’s a cool fact. Did you know that dogs in the wild rarely bark?
That’s right! Amazingly, while wild dogs can bark, they tend to use howls, yelps, and other vocalizations to communicate with one another.
Domesticated dogs, on the other hand, are believed to have developed their barking skills over centuries as a way to try and communicate with their human pack members.
This is likely because the human/dog relationship began early on as a partnership rather than a companionship, (hunting dogs, guard dogs, etc), and back then we humans needed dogs to bark to alert us to things their keen senses picked up on before ours could.
But we don’t really need our dogs to bark so much these days and, sometimes, barking can become a nuisance.
Many controversial products on the market like corrector sprays and shock collars claim to help eliminate barking
And while some of us may be tempted to train the bark out of our dogs, the truth is that some highly regarded dog trainers advise against it.
Along with reading your dog’s body language and facial expressions, you can also learn your dog’s bark in order to better understand what he is trying to tell you.
And wouldn’t our lives be better as dog parents if we were actually able to communicate with our four-legged family members?
So without further ado, let’s learn about 15 of the most common bark sounds and what they mean!
1. One or Two Short, Even-Toned Barks
This is a greeting, a happy bark of recognition. A jolly hello!
Perhaps a good friend or family member has just arrived and each time they come they bring your pup some tasty treats.
Your dog is likely going to emit this bark as a way of saying “I’m so excited to see you! Hi! Welcome!”
Is your dog wagging his tail and jumping for joy? Do you hear him giving you one or two quick barks? He’s saying hello!
This is a happy bark, so don’t shush your pup. He’s just being friendly and welcoming.
2. One or Two Short and High Pitched Barks
“Play with me!”
This is another happy bark, usually accompanying a game of fetch or chase!
You are most likely going to hear this bark if you were playing with your pooch and suddenly stopped.
If your dog is still into the game and you’ve turned away to give attention to something or someone else, he’s going to let you know he’s not done playing.
This is a “let’s keep playing” bark!
Is your dog barking while you play? He wants to keep the fun going!
The photo above shows the exact moment just after or before a bark like this will be heard. Your dog’s ears will be relaxed, you’ll see a nice smile on his face, and his eyes are eager and bright.
“Play with me!” He says!
3. High Pitched, Short Barks
“Pay attention to me. I need or want something.”
Your dog wants your attention. He wants or needs something from you, whether it’s food, play, or just some snuggles.
Is your puppy ready to get out of his crate? Or maybe he wants on the bed? If so, you’ll hear short, high pitched barks.
If you hear this bark, take a look at your dog and watch him. My dog often does this when one of her toys is stuck behind the couch. She’ll give me this bark, look at me, then look at the couch.
One time she gave me this bark to let me know I had made her dinner but forgot to set it down for her on the floor. She’s a smarty.
4. A High-Pitched, Loud, Ongoing Bark
“I don’t know you! You make me nervous!”
I often hear this bark when walking my dog past fences of homes with other dogs. The other dogs will run to the fence and just go crazy.
This is a territorial, suspicious bark.
Your own dog may do this to alert you of a neighbor mowing his lawn, of other dogs walking down the sidewalk near your home, or even of suspicious-looking people or wild animals.
Does your dog bark incessantly at strangers on the sidewalk in front of his home? He wants them to stay off his territory!
This can be one of the more annoying dog barks, but remember, your dog is still trying to tell you something.
“I’m scared. I’m anxious. I want to alert and protect you and my territory!”
Try comforting your dog instead of scolding him for his incessant barking. Remember, he isn’t doing it to just drive you and your neighbors insane.
5. Short or Clipped Howls or Yaps
“I’m so happy and excited!”
Your dog is soooo excited! Perhaps you just got home? He wants all of your attention right now!
Short, high pitched yaps and howls are expressions of excitement! “You’re back, you’re back! I’m so excited that you’re home!”
Isn’t it lovely to be so loved?
I thought so until I moved into a small, quiet apartment complex where the walls are paper thin and my neighbors were already wary about having a little dog living next door.
To remedy this shrill “I’m so stoked to see you” bark, I stopped giving attention to my pup the moment I walked through the door.
I know this sounds mean, but actually what it’s taught my dog is that when she’s quiet she gets the love sooner. It works like a charm.
I also want to note that if you come home and your dog reacts this way and this type of barking is accompanied by destructive behaviors such as chewing, potty accidents, etc, then you may be dealing with a dog who has separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety in dogs is never fun and this bark could easily be a form of “thank God you’re back, I thought you’d never return and I was freaking out!”
No one wants their dog to be unhappy all day while they are away.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help your dog cope with being alone, such as enrolling him in doggy daycare, hiring a quality dog walking service, purchasing puzzle toys and Kongs, and working with your dog on crate training.
Many dogs actually feel safer and more comfortable in crates, which is why this is sometimes a good option for pups who suffer from separation anxiety.
6. A Shrill, Sharp Yelp or Continuous Yelps
“Ouch!” or “I’m scared!”
A shrill yelp is hard to miss. My dog just yelped yesterday when my boyfriend stepped on her paw. I nearly broke up with him for being so clumsy.
In all seriousness, this yelp stops you in your tracks and lets you know right away that your dog isn’t happy and is likely in pain.
Dogs who yelp are almost always in distress.
But not all yelps mean pain, injury, or illness.
A stressful situation can bring on a yelp as well. I’ve heard pups yelp to surrender in doggy disagreements with other dogs, even though they weren’t being hurt.
7. Sharp, Loud, and Continuous Alerting Barks
“I sense danger and we need to be on alert!”
This is your dog’s way of warning you of danger. Of course, the danger may be the neighbor’s evil cat, but you get the gist.
On the other hand, the danger could real and there could be a suspicious person lurking around your home or a wild animal like a coyote or a mountain lion off in the distance during your hike.
If your dog is suspicious of something and senses danger, this is the bark you’ll hear. Take notice. Dogs can often sense things we can’t.
Shepherd and producing loud, continuous barks, he’s trying to warn you of something he is afraid or suspicious of.
You may also hear this kind of bark during fireworks, or if your dog has doorbell anxiety or other noise phobias.
Remember, just because you understand that fireworks, doorbells, and loud cars zooming by won’t hurt you or your dog, your dog doesn’t know that.
Try and be patient with him and remember that he’s afraid. Let him know you are there and you will protect him.
If the barking is directed at you, however, stay back. This kind of fearful bark can sometimes lead to a bite. Let your dog calm down and leave him be until he relaxes.
8. One Low, Even-Toned Bark
This is a bark sound of irritation. It’s your dog telling you to go away and leave him be. You may hear this bark if you surprise your dog while he’s sleeping or if you have startled him during mealtime.
If you hear a low, short, even-toned bark, just leave your dog be. He’s doing his thing.
Like humans, dogs can get annoyed. Dogs may also give this bark to other dogs who are playing to instantly at home with them or at the dog park.
If your dog is just trying to chill and wants to be left alone, this is the bark you’ll hear.
9. Soft, Low Growl Without Showing Teeth
“Do you see or hear that?”
This is a quiet warning. Your dog either hears or sees something he doesn’t like or is unsure of.
When your dog alerts and stars ahead, emitting a soft, low growl without showing his teeth, he may have heard or seen something that makes him anxious.
It’s almost like the calm before the storm. My dog does this when she sees someone off in the distance she’s not sure of, and the ensuing bark of “I don’t know you, stay off my territory”, is sure to follow.
If I catch my dog in this state, I usually distract her by turning her away from the trigger and getting her attention on other things she loves like treats, toys, or something more reinforcing like a smelly patch of grass or a tree to pee on if we are out on a walk.
10. The Long, Melancholy Howl
“I’m lonely and bored.”
If your dog is howling along to the tune of a police siren or a song on the radio, then he’s probably just giving you a sweet little serenade.
Some dogs love to “sing-along” with their favorite calming music, and music therapy for dogs has even been a proven method to help dogs who suffer from anxiety.
However, if your pooch has been in the backyard a while by himself and you hear him howling of his own accord, chances are he’s lonely.
If your dog has been on his own outside for a while and you hear him howling, let him in to hang out with his family. He may be lonely.
And since howling all alone can and often is a sign of loneliness, If you catch your pup howling and you know he’s pretty social, a trip to the dog park may be in order!
11. The Siren Howl
“I’m singing along!”
Now, this is the serenade we were talking about. Many dogs howl in response to a number of high-pitched sounds like music, squeaky toys, and other dogs in their neighborhood howling.
Is your dog singing along with the other dogs in the neighborhood?
Dogs also howl as a way of communication with other dogs. Howling is also exhibited in wolf packs who communicate with each other from miles away by emitting a unique, melancholy howl.
For wolves, howling doesn’t always translate to being sad and lonely. It can also be a way of greeting, alerting other pack members of their whereabouts, or letting other pack members know they are okay.
If your dog didn’t start the howl and is simply joining in, let him have his fun. Chances are he’s just saying hello to some of his neighborhood pals and adding his voice to the canine choir.
12. Timid Growl Accompanied By a Single Bark
“I’m scared and uncertain so stay back.”
Your dog is anxious or nervous. This isn’t a sound of aggression, but more a sound of warning, fear, or concern.
You may also hear this type of sound if your dog is in pain and you are trying to check him. If your dog is fearful you are going to hurt his injured area, he’ll let you know with this sound.
Is your dog giving you a low, timid sounding growl? He just needs you to back off and give him some space while he works through his anxiety.
Follow your dog’s warning and leave him be until it is safer to assess the situation. Remember, dogs rarely bite without warning, and even though this isn’t an aggressive-induced dog sound, it still comes from a place of tension and anxiety and can still lead to a bite.
If you worry your dog is injured but feel that checking him may result in you getting bitten, I suggest having him muzzled before giving him a good check.
13. Short, High-Pitched Wines Accompanied By Quick Barks
“Let’s go! Hurry up!”
Your pup is ready to go! Did you just open his treat jar or grab his leash? Perhaps you’re just taking too darn long to fill his Kong!
If your dog gives you a short, high-pitched, happy-sounding bark while you’re grabbing his leash or filling his food bowl, he’s super excited!
Your dog wants you to speed it up and get to the good stuff! He’s ready for all the fun that is to come and simply can’t wait another second!
14. A Deep Growl Accompanied By A Sharp, Single Bark While Showing Teeth
“Back off or I’ll bite you!”
This is a dog sound you should certainly not ignore.
If your dog, or any dog for that matter, is growling and showing his teeth, back away and leave him be.
Often this low, deep growl accompanied by a short, single bark translates to a warning of “stay back!” and may be followed by a nip or bite if you aren’t careful.
Remember, all dogs can growl and bite, but dogs who are not properly socialized or trained, and especially unsocialized, intact male dogs are most prone to territorial behaviors that can result in dog bites.
If you hear this dog sound, avoid eye contact and back away.
15. A “Purr-Like” Growl Accompanied by A Wagging Tail
“I’m having fun!”
Is your dog a happy growler? To the surprise of some owners, many dogs produce a low, even-toned, continuous growl when they are excited or happy.
We’ve all heard the play growl! Is there anything cuter?
My dog does the happy growl when we play tug of war games, and my brother’s pitbull likes to greet us at the front door with a toy in his mouth (or a pillow, or even his dog bed – whichever is closer), and growl happily to say hello.
This is a fun, playful sound that shouldn’t be punished. Your dog is just super stoked.
Dealing With Incessant Dog Barking
Dogs are dogs, and while I personally think they are perfect in every way, the reality is that there are several canine behavioral issues and bad habits our dogs can develop if we as their human parents aren’t careful.
Part of helping your dog be his best-behaved self goes hand-in-hand with training and socialization.
It’s important to make sure we are socializing and training our dogs early on and as often as possible.
This is why most experts agree socializing and training your dog from puppyhood is best.
You should also keep in mind that training and socialization should be an ongoing process, as bad habits are easy to pick back up again. Not only that, but dogs are constantly learning from their environment, so be careful.
Just because your dog is a senior doesn’t mean he can’t suddenly pick up some bad habits.
There are endless basic tricks you can teach your dog like sit, stay, and heel, and you can even teach your dog to say yes and no, so keep teaching and socializing. Not only is it fun for the both of you but it will also help you and your pooch build a stronger, healthier bond.
Consistently training your dog can also help keep him mentally happy, which can lead to less barking due to boredom.
You can also keep incessant barking under control by investing in puzzle toys and kongs, as we mentioned above, and making sure your dog gets lots of exercise to help keep him mentally and physically happy.
And for dogs who suffer from anxiety or reactivity, you can also try desensitization and counterconditioning techniques.
Some dog owners also swear by calming supplements, CBD oils, and other remedies or over the counter medications for anxious dogs or dogs who bark incessantly due to fear and anxiety.
Of course, I always recommend that you discuss your options with your veterinarian before turning to medications for your dog.
So, what did your dog just say? Now that you know how to speak dog, tell us what your dog wants from you in the comments below!
Madison Guthrie (also known as Sonny Mackenzi) is a pet care specialist and positive-reinforcement trainer who works most closely with anxious and reactive dogs. Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, Madison developed a love for animals at an early age and spent most of her childhood outdoors rescuing stray pets and helping to rehabilitate injured wildlife. Along with animals, Madison also developed a love for writing and music. Over the past five years, she has worked to use her passions to help the pets and pet parents in her community build stronger bonds and live happier, healthier lives together. Currently, Madison lives in South Pasadena, California where she owns and operates Miss Madison LLC, a marketing company that focuses on helping privately owned veterinary establishments and pet care companies grow and thrive. She also works as a dog trainer at My Dog Spot, which is an award-winning pet care and training establishment in Pasadena, California.