What Does My Dog’s Bark Mean?

Most owners can easily tell when a bark is a warning, or when their dog is yelping in pain. But other barks can indicate anything from boredom and attention seeking to “asking” for help. Do you know what your dog’s barks mean? 

Dr. Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc, FRSC, an animal expert, says that the language of dogs is the same from breed to breed, and that dog vocal communication relies on three elements of the bark: the pitch, the frequency or repetitiveness, and the duration. You can learn their language as well as they learn ours – at least enough to communicate general information. 

Let’s look more closely at what pitch, frequency, and duration mean.

Duration of the bark:

The duration of the bark is how long it lasts. Longer barks generally indicate that your dog is feeling threatened or fearful. If your dog is making a long, low pitched bark accompanied by a threatening growl, they are ready to face an incoming threat and may escalate their aggression. However, if they are fearful or are not quite sure what to make of the threat, their barks and growls may come in shorter bursts, or occur only briefly. 

Frequency of the bark:

The frequency of the bark is how often it is repeated. One of the most famous dogs of all time was Lassie – a collie on a television show by the same name. Every week Lassie would save or help Timmy, her 10-year old human owner, and her animal friends. The classic moments in each episode involved Lassie barking and barking and Timmy or someone else saying, “What is it Lassie? What are you trying to say?” 

Lassie’s family paid attention to repeated barking and so should we. A single bark or a bark or two may indicate interest or attention to something, while repeated barking indicates excitement and urgency. The number of barks in a row indicates the dog’s degree of arousal, and the faster or more frequent the barking, the more excited the dog and/or urgent the issue. 

Pitch of the bark:

Barks can be high-pitched or low. Lower-pitched barks signal suspicion or aggression, while higher-pitched barks signal excitement and playfulness. A lonely dog may also make single higher-pitched barks that rise in tone to sound almost like a yelp.

It sounds complex, but it’s not. Once you start paying attention to your dog’s barking patterns and body language,  you can figure out what they’re trying to tell you. 

If you’d like to put your skills to the test, try seeing how you do with this test on NOVA. Just click on “Launch Interactive” to see how many barks you recognize and understand. https://www.hepper.com/types-of-dog-barks/

If you have questions or need help with your dog, reserve a complimentary consultation.

Additional Resources:
Dr. Stanley Coren’s books: The Intelligence of Dogs, How to Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Dog, The Pawprints of History, Why Does My Dog Act That Way, How Dogs Think  and The Modern Dog.

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