Barking: Different Vocalization in Dogs 


Many first-time dog-owners are amazed at the range and expressiveness of dogs’ barks, growls and whimpers.  Neighbors of dog-owners are even more amazed at the volume of dog vocalizations.  With all dog noises, the most common question asked is; “What is that dog saying?”  The truth is that, while dogs are very good at picking up on human cues, humans have been quite slow at picking up dog language.  By learning what dogs are trying to say, owners can not only limit unnecessary barking, but develop a closer relationship with their dog.

Tone, frequency and environment are extremely important when trying to understand meaning behind a dog’s sounds.  Through understanding the information present in a howling or growling dog, people can address the reason and respond appropriately.  When a dog feels understood, they are less likely to bark, which is in the top five training habits owners look to instill in their pets.  To best understand dog vocalizations, it is important to understand the different types of barking, and what they are used for.

Different Types of Barking:

In order to look at the different barks dogs used in communication, the Norwegian dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas is consulted to give some insight (2016).  Here are the five most common bark types, what they sound like and when they typically occur:

  1. Excitement Barking: this happens during high emotional times, like when anticipating food or a visitor. This usually sounds high-pitched and rapid, often with jumping, running and frantic movement. Solution: Wait until your dog is calm before giving the reward.
  1. Warning Barking: Memorable as a single, sharp bark, this dog signal happens when there is something that needs attention, such as a possible visitor. Solution: Acknowledge the threat in a calm manner, and dismiss it.  Place yourself between the dog and the threat, telling the dog that you are there to send the threat away.
  1. Fear Barking: Quick, high-pitched and marathon-long, fear barking happens when the dog is afraid of something and wants to give the alert. Solution: Try to avoid what causes this reaction, and, in the meantime, calmly reassure your dog until they are also calm.
  1. Guard Barking: During their natural duties, dogs are best at guarding. When they feel a threat is approaching to their territory, owners may hear a barking followed by growling. Solution: Stop this reaction by investigating what they are reacting to, or try counterconditioning if this behavior is very severe.
  1. Frustration Barking: frustration barking comes from boredom, often when locked in a space away from humans. Endless, in a monotone, and sometimes ending in a howl, loneliness is to blame. Solution: bring the dog to humans and interact with them.

Each bark has a different and individual sound with distinct circumstances.  In order to stop a dog from barking, it is important to understand where it is coming from and what response will make it stop.  When listening to the type of bark and the behavior of the dog making the sounds, it becomes intuitive to understand their message. 

How to Respond to Barking:

Just like with humans, the meaning behind sounds is just as important as the sounds themselves.  This is known as metacommunication, or the underlying meaning of verbal communication.  By listening to the type of barks and examining the environment when these barks happen, people can respond to these communications in a way that will acknowledge the message.  This can stop further barking about the same subject, and builds the relationship with a dog who knows they’ve been heard.

The number one rule when responding to behavior from a dog is to be calm, and not to yell or punish dogs for barking.  To a barking dog, a person yelling to be quiet just encourages them – they think you are yelling, or barking, about the same thing (Coren, 2011)!  Giving attention when needed, or ignoring when necessary, should always be done in a composed and collected manner.  Identify the stimulus for barking, acknowledge it, and dismissing it calmly is the best advice for vocal dog owners.

Just like playing, feeding and being a companion to a dog, communication through barking is just as important to building a strong relationship.  Dog vocalization can also be an excellent way to stay in tune with your environment – which a dog is always helping you to do.  Whether a dog feels threatened by an approaching walker, or is notifying you that the pizza man is here, dogs are trying to tell you things all day.  Once you decipher what your dog is reacting to, your relationship will be much closer.

Coren, S. (2011, March 15). What Are Dogs Trying to Say When They Bark? Retrieved February 14, 2018, from

If We Knew What They Were Saying, Their Barking Wouldn't Be So Irritating - Tufts Your Dog Article. (2016, December). Retrieved February 14, 2018, from

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