Dog Sounds - What Is Your Dog Telling You

Dogs talk! They might not ask you how your day was, but they do indeed have their own set of vocalizations they communicate through. As dog owners, we normally focus on the dog's body language – those wagging tails and excited eyes, barks, growls, whines, and other dog sounds can also shed light on your dog’s mood.

At times it might feel that there is no specific context for your dog’s vocalizations. He might, in your eyes, bark for no reason at all. That isn't always true, however, and in this article, we'll explore what your dog could be trying to tell you.

What do we know about dog sounds?

Dog Sounds: What Is Your Dog Saying to You?You're not the first to be curious. There are people, scientists, and canine experts, authors, who've done an extensive amount of research into dog sounds and vocalizations to better understand our furry companions.

In their book, The Genius of Dogs, authors Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods explain that recent research indicates there is definitely more to a dog barking than we think. Scientists who took spectrograms, or pictures, of dog barks, were able to see differences. Your dog’s barks can change in timing, pitch, and amplitude.

Then it’s not too far-fetched to assume they have different meanings, is it?

To make things even more confusing, all of the different sounds your dog makes to communicate can mean different things, at different times. For example, when your dog growls, it is not always because of aggression. Similarly, whining is not always a sign of distress, something you would be able to attest to during your dog’s feeding time if he gets impatient.

ALSO READ: Dog Facial Expressions and Body Language Explained by Science

Research Into Dog Sounds

Tamás Faragó, Ph.D. and his colleagues at the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, through a series of studies of dog sounds, discovered that through growls, dogs could accurately judge another dog’s size. But how?

In one study, Faragó and his team showed dogs two images of the same dog; one was the dog’s actual size and the other one was 30% larger or smaller. The dogs then listened to a pre-recorded growl and – believe it or not – most dogs looked at the image of the actual size of the dog.

“Learning about these differences may help in reducing dog aggression towards humans, as well as improving dogs’ behaviour, as we understand better when a threat is real versus playful.”

In another of Faragó’s studies, a bone was placed in front of a speaker. When a dog approached the bone, either a play-growl, a stranger alert growl, or a food protection growl was played over the speaker. Dogs would grab the bone and run with the play of stranger alert growl, but they would back off with the protection growl.

The lead study author talks about this in the seminar. Here's the video:

All of these studies, as well as previous research, show that these dog sounds and vocalizations carry meaning for dogs. But according to Faragó, humans too can decipher dog sounds and as we learn more about their patterns, we'll know how to react.

Further research has demonstrated that after listening to random recordings of dog sounds and vocalizations, people were able to classify the barks into the correct contexts and attach meaning to dogs barking, howling, growling. For example, people would correctly recognize and attribute barks as full of despair possibly due to loneliness.

Barking up the wrong tree

Understanding dog soundsWith more research into dog sounds and vocalization underway, there's a real chance we'll be able to decipher more of the dog's language and how to understand our canine companions better. But even with the current results from numerous studies and canine psychology experts' input, we have something to go by.

So, what do your dog’s barks, growls, howls, whines, whimpers, and various other dog sounds mean? Why do dogs bark, growl, or howl in the first place? Here's something to help you understand your pooch better.


Why do dogs bark? There are many reasons. They may be telling you there’s someone outside, they might be bored or barking out of fear or distress, even because of happiness. Understand your dog’s vocalizations, especially your dog's barking, in important, he might be trying to tell you something important

  • Barking at a fast pace in strings of 3 or 4 barks, without pauses in between and in a midrange pitch can indicate your dog is on high alert and senses something but has not yet determined if it is a threat or not.
  • When the pace slows down and the pitch lowers, your dog identified an imminent threat and is preparing to defend.
  • One or two sharp, short barks of high or midrange pitch is a greeting sound and usually replaces the alarm bark when visitors are identified as friendly.
  • If your dog is lonely or confined, you will hear a prolonged string of barks with moderate to long intervals between each one.
  • Mother dogs will discipline her puppies with a single short bark in a lower midrange pitch. Other dogs will also use this bark when annoyed.
  • You must be familiar with the sounds your dog makes when having fun. Play usually is initiated with a sort of stutter bark in midrange pitch and keeps rising to indicate having fun.

VIDEO GUIDE: How to Easily Stop A Dog From Barking


Why do dogs growl? Growls are usually seen as signs of aggression or potential aggression but that is definitely not the case. Dogs play-growl during play and may even ‘grumble’ when being petted. They may even give a low growl when they are utterly content and happy and stress-free.

It is important to look at your dog’s body language and assess the surroundings to figure out if his growl is aggressive or not.

  • When your dog is trying to assert dominance over another dog (or at times, you), you will hear a soft, low-pitch growl coming from his chest.
  • If the growl’s pitch raises a little and the volume goes down, it is a clear warning to stay away.
  • A growl that leads to bark is both a threat and a call for assistance.
  • A growl with a higher pitch means your dog is less confident and somewhat frightened but he will still defend himself.
  • If the growl goes from midrange to high midrange and stays smooth, your dog is terrified and will either defend himself or run away.
  • During play and intense concentration, you might hear a noisy growl, medium to a high pitch, without any teeth showing. Your dog is having a good time playing with you! But if you’re still unsure, look at your dog’s body language.


Why do dogs howlWhy do dogs howl? Generally considered to be communication between pack members but is usually triggered by high-pitched sounds. Howling is also a symptom of separation anxiety or general distress.

  • A yip-howl is a sign that your dog is lonely and in need of companionship.
  • General howling is a way of communicating with other dogs and indicating ownership of the territory.
  • If your dog gives 2 to 3 barks, followed by a mournful howl, your dog is alone and calling for company or response from other dogs.

Whimpering and Whining

Why do dogs whimper? This is usually one sound you do not want to ignore. A whimper or whine is produced nasally with the mouth closed and usually signals your dog wants or needs something, or is in severe pain. It is meant to bring the listener closer.

You might have heard your dog yelp if play got too rough with you or another dog. It is a way for your dog to communicate his distress.

In other instances, whimpers can be signs of excitement but are usually accompanied by licking, jumping, and barking.

  • A soft whine and whimper mean your dog is scared or hurting.
  • A moan that sounds somewhat like a yodel communicates spontaneous pleasure or excitement
  • If your dog gives a series of yelps it is an indication that he is very afraid of something or in severe pain.

Excessive Vocalization

Why do dogs barkWhat's the reason for excessive barking in your dog? If your dog’s vocalizations change suddenly i.e. happen more frequently and at a higher volume, it is important to take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out any diseases or disorders. Excessive barking in dogs is easy to spot and hard to ignore.

After your vet has done a full medical workup, including a chemical blood profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis and discovers nothing medically wrong, you may have to consider behavioral therapy.

If your dog does bark incessantly due to behavior issues, it is important that you don’t reinforce any vocalizations. Training your dog to be quiet on command will go a long way in addressing the behavioral issues. If you are unsure where to begin the search for dog behaviorists in your area and together you can work to keep your dog calm and quiet

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Kristina has graduated with a Master's degree in Psychology over five years ago, and since been researching and writing about animal sciences and dog training. Her main goal is to present the most truthful science-based information to as many pet owners out there as possible.