Dogs are highly expressive animals and are always communicating exactly how they think and feel.
Although most of their communication happens with body language, they also have a surprisingly large range of vocalizations such as barks, yelps, whines and growls.
In much the same way we use words to form sentences to say different things, dogs can vary their barks depending on what they’re feeling or trying to say.
And if you know what to listen for you can interpret the range of sounds your Labrador creates.
Combine with this the knowledge learnt in my previous articles on why dogs bark and interpreting canine body language, with a little observation and practice you can soon learn to know their intentions and immediate feelings at any given moment.
This article will detail the range of sounds a dog can make, how they vary them and what they mean. This will enable you to make a best guess about what their barks and other sounds are trying to say, ultimately helping you to answer the question: What do different dog barks mean?
How Do Dogs Differ The Sound Of Their Bark?
According to Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., a professor of canine psychology in his article: What Are Dogs trying To Say When they bark? Dogs have the ability to alter the sound of their bark in 3 different ways.
By altering one or more of the following they can create a range of different sounds conveying very different meanings:
- The pitch of the bark
- The duration or length of the sound created
- The frequency or repetition of barking
Let’s take a look at each in turn, summarizing what Stanley Coren has to say:
What Does The Pitch Of A Dogs Bark Tell Us?
Generally speaking, higher pitched sounds are used to communicate the idea that a dog is anything from non-threatening to positively welcoming and that it’s generally safe to approach. The dog isn’t feeling fearful, dominant or aggressive.
In contrast to this, lower pitched sounds generally mean that a dog is feeling threatening and possibly aggressive, that you should stay away.
Basically, the higher the sound the less there is to worry about, the lower and louder the sound, the more threatening and aggressive it usually is.
What Does The Duration Of The Sound Tell Us?
In general the longer a dog makes a sound, the more likely it is that the dog is making a conscious decision about making that sound and hence the more deliberate the actions they’re planning.
As an example, a dominant dog faced with a perceived threat will make a deep and long sounding growl which means he’s serious about standing his ground and will not back away. He’s made a conscious decision to sound out his confidence and his aggressive intentions.
Whereas a more timid dog in a similar situation will make shorter bursts of growling that aren’t sustained too long. This indicates the dog is unsure and a little worried about being faced with and showing aggression and may well stand down and back away.
What Does The Frequency And Repetition Of Barking Tell Us?
The more frequent a dog repeats a sound, the more urgent or excited a dog is feeling about a situation.
If they repeat a sound rapidly and continuously, it means they see the situation as very important and urgent.
If they fail to repeat a sound or if when they do the repetitions are very spaced out, it means they’re showing little interest and aren’t particularly bothered about a situation.
As an example, if a dog is out in the yard and barks at something once or twice over the course of a few seconds, they aren’t overly interested or placing too much importance in what it is they’ve detected.
But if the same dog barks rapidly, many times in quick succession and repeats these bursts many times, the dog thinks the situation is very important and extremely urgent.
What Do Different Dog Barks Mean? The 14 Most Common Barks Interpreted
I will now list and describe the most commonly heard recognizable barks and describe the most commonly accepted interpretation of them.
But before I do, a little disclaimer: We don’t yet know everything there is about canine communication and some recent studies have shown that animal communication is more complex than we first thought.
The same bark may have a different meaning depending on the context and the situation it’s used in.
But combining an understanding of canine body language and what’s written in this article gives a very good approximation of what your dog is thinking and feeling in any given moment and is about the best we can do for now.
NOTE: please see the list of sources used at the end of this article when compiling this list and for further reading on the subject.
1. Continuous And Rapid Barking In Strings Of Two To Four In A Medium Pitch
This is the classic ‘alarm bark’ and possibly the most commonly heard form of all barking.
Your Lab will sound an alarm like this when they sense an intruder coming into their territory, or something is happening that needs looking into or their family needs alerting.
2. One Or Two Short Sharp Barks In A Medium To High Pitch
This is the typical greeting bark that a dog sounds when they see somebody or another dog that they know and are familiar with. They’re literally saying ‘hello!’.
3. A Stuttered Bark In A Medium Pitch
This is the classic bark given by a dog that’s asking to play and sounds a little like ‘arrrr-ruff!’
You will hear this from your Lab if they’re waiting for you to throw them a ball or start a game of tug. They will usually have their legs out in front of them with their rear in the air, their mouth open, literally their entire body and bark just screaming: ‘PLAY WITH ME!”
You will also hear it from a dog that’s shooting about crazily with a canine friend, tearing around the local dog park in a game of chase with a playful bounce and sense of abandonment in their step.
4. The Growl Then Low Pitch Bark
This is a growl followed by a low-pitched bark like: ‘grrr-ruff!’
This is the sound of an annoyed dog who feels confident and is ready to fight.
It’s also used when asking for support from their pack when faced with a threat.
If you hear this there’s either something or someone they feel needs dealing with but they want help, or somebody is bothering them and should stop it and move away before they become aggressive.
5. The Growl Then High Pitch Bark
This is a growl followed by a high-pitched bark (instead of a low-pitched bark.)
This is the sound of a scared or annoyed dog, but who isn’t confident in themselves to be able to deal with the situation, or who wants whatever’s happening to stop but aren’t sure about rising to aggression and being able to carry it off.
The dog is annoyed but worried, may well back off themselves to end the worrying situation, but could also potentially rise to aggression. Annoyed, not confident and hence unpredictable, but definitely a sign to move away if you’re the cause of the annoyance.
6. One Very Short And Very High Pitched Yelp
This is a dog’s way of saying ‘ouch!’, made when they’ve been unexpectedly hurt or felt a sharp and sudden pain, but one that instantly goes away.
I’m sure we’ve all heard this when we’ve accidentally stepped on our Labs tail or one of their paws.
7. A Sequence Of Short And High Pitched Yelps
Unlike the single yelp that is an instantaneous, quickly ending pain, a long series of yelps indicates a dog is in very serious and prolonged pain. A dog emitting a series of yelps is really hurting and probably needs help.
Whimpering is a soft, low and quiet kind of sound, a bit like whining but so much softer and quieter. The dog will usually look quite sad, laying down and be very still while whimpering.
A dog that’s whimpering is either hurt and suffering, but not so badly that they’re yelping, or they could be extremely fearful and deeply frightened of something.
Similar to whimpering, but much louder and higher pitched, this is the sound a dog makes when it wants or needs something. The louder and more frequent the whining, the more urgently the dog feels it needs something or the stronger the feelings behind the whining is.
A dog will usually be standing or sitting up and looking alert while whining. You may hear it when they’re hungry, want to come in from outside or want to get at something that’s simply out of reach.
10. Single Barks, Long Pauses Between Each, Repeating For A Long Time
This is the bark of a lonely dog, asking if there’s anybody out there and begging for company.
This is the bark neighbors will often hear and complain of, coming from dogs left alone all day or shut out in the yard at night.
11. The ‘Yap-Howl’
A sound like: ‘Yap-yap-yap-Hoooooooooowl.’
Like number 10, this is another sound made by a dog that feels isolated and lonely and is asking for companionship, asking if there’s anybody out there.
12. Prolonged And Continuous Howling
We’ve all heard this classic sound made famous by the image of wolves howling at the moon.
Do not confuse howling with the ‘Yap-Howl’ described in number 11, which has a very different meaning.
A howl that isn’t accompanied by any other sound, although sounding sad, is actually not a sign of a sad dog at all.
Not many domesticated dogs howl, but those that do use it as a way to communicate over long distances. To signal to other dogs that they are there and that this is their territory.
13. A Single, Short, Lower-Medium Pitch Bark
This is the bark of a dog that’s saying: ‘Stop that! Go away!”.
You’ll hear this from a dog that’s being pestered, that feels slightly annoyed and wants to be left alone. For example if a child is pulling their ears or tail.
14. A Single Short, Medium To High Pitched Bark
This is a bark sounded by a startled or surprised dog.
It’s similar to the yelp in the way it’s a short, single sound, but it’s caused by mere surprise and not pain, and is lower in pitch.
If repeated two or three times, the meaning changes and is used to say ‘come look’ or ‘come here’. A few short, medium to high-pitched barks is a dog’s way of asking you to look at something interesting they’ve seen.
This covers the most common types of barking you will hear and their most understood meanings. But as stated before, we simply don’t know everything yet and the same bark could have different meanings in different situations.
But by combining a dog’s body language, the sound they’re making as described above and specialist knowledge only you can have of how your own particular dog behaves, you should be highly capable of determining how your dog feels and what they’re trying to say.
All dogs have body language and sounds they make that are common across the entire species, but nobody knows your dog better than you.
The articles I’ve shared on body language and barking give a good base knowledge to spring from for understanding your dog.
But true understanding comes from spending time observing and learning about your own dog, who is an individual and may have their own little quirky ways of communicating that you will pick up on.
As always, I’d love to hear any questions or feedback you may have on this article in the comments section below. I’ll always try my best to answer every one :-)
Sources and Further Reading
The following articles were sources I read and used in the compilation of the list seen above:
- Why Do Dogs Bark? 10 Dog Barks Translated – From ‘K9 Magazine’
- Understanding Your Dog’s Vocal Communications – From ‘The Whole Dog Journal’
- What Does My Dog’s Bark Mean? A Dog Bark Translation Guide – From ‘Keep The Tail Wagging’
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