Whether they like to “roo-roo-roo” or “woof”, dogs mean what they say. Thing is, their humans often don’t get it, which can lead to confusion, frustration and even miscommunication. If you want to understand your dog better, it’s a clever idea to learn what dogs’ barks might mean.
Luckily, “except for certain regional ‘dialects’ among birds,” Psychology Today points out, “within any one animal type, there seems to be some sort of fairly common or universal language and there appears to be a universal sound code used by most animals.”
It goes on to explain that there are three dimensions to dog sounds – pitch, duration, and frequency, i.e. how high or low pitched a bark is, how long it lasts, and how many repetitions and pauses there are in it.
Cheat sheet of dog sounds
Low sounds indicate a threat, show anger, and may point to possible aggression. High pitched sounds indicate you’re safe around the pooch, or that pooch is requesting closer access to you. Clever pooch is borrowing this behaviour to embellish his communication. In the wild, animals that are larger than dogs tend to make low sounds, and animals smaller than dogs tend to make higher-pitched sounds. It is thought that dogs make low sounds to mimic larger animals (“I am potentially a threat”) and higher pitched sounds to mimic smaller ones (“I am not a threat”).
The longer the sound is sustained for, the more conscious intention it comes with. A long, low growl means the dog is definitely thinking of her next move, and you better move out of the way. Sounds that are very short – like quick, high-pitched whines – indicate fear and uncertainty.
Rapid repetition suggests excitement and urgency. Large gaps between sounds or single sounds indicate lower excitement (but not necessarily less seriousness) or mild interest. “A dog barking in multiple bursts and repeating them many times a minute,” Psychology Today goes on to explain, “is signalling that he feels that the situation is important and perhaps even a potential crisis.”
Pauses are also important
Here are a few barks translated from Dog
One (or two) short, sharp barks, mid-range pitch
“I am aware.”
One short bark, higher-range pitch.
(can replace or be added to rapid-fire alarm barks – see below – if the ‘thing’ is recognized as friendly.)
One sharp bark. Lower mid-range pitch.
Woof… … woof… … woof… … woof… … woof
One string of single barks separated by extended pauses.
“I … am … lonely … come … and … love … me…” (repeat)
The worst. Get permission to play with this dog pronto.
This is a stutter-bark, a single bark preceded by a part-bark. It usually goes with front paws flat on the floor and tail and bottom high in the air, that is to say:
Woof-woof … Woof-woof …
A rapid set of 2 – 4 barks separated by pauses. Mid-range pitch. Traditional alarm bark.
“I think there’s a problem. Alpha*, come look, please!”
Wooof-wooof … wooof-wooof…
Continuous string, lower pitch, slower than the usual alarm bark.
“danger is very close, get ready to respond.”
Continuous barking, mid-range pitch.
“Call the others! There’s a thing! I think it might be a bad thing! Backup! Backup!”
How many of them did you discover you already know? As you get better at translating, you’ll probably start to understand more dog sound variants like a series of yelps (“ow! Eina! It’s sore! It’s sore!”) and the rising bark, which is almost a yelp, but not as high-pitched (“this is FUN! This is FUN!”). For now, though, this is a good way to test how well you ‘get’ your pooch’s attempts to engage you.
Of course, we’ll never stop putting words in their mouth, and it’s perfectly harmless to have a little fun on the side, as Juniper’s human mommy demonstrates here. Juniper is not a dog, of course, but if you’re interested in finding out how to speak fox, follow their Instagram for adorable, informative foxy posts.
Find the Instagram account here: Juniper Instagram
*In single-dog families, the alpha might not be a dog, but a human. We encourage multiple dog families for the well-being of these wonderful pack animals and will give you 15% off each additional pet policy you take out.