Decoding Dog Language: What Does a Bark Mean?

June 11, 2020
By: Highway Veterinary Hospital Staff

Your dog probably has all manner of expressing himself, whether it’s body language or verbal cues – such as barking.

There is meaning in this expression, and your dog’s bark may have a lot to say about what’s going on in that brain of his. Understanding various barks and sounds from pets is key in making sure they are healthy, safe, and engaged in our lives with them.

If your dog is a barker, you may ask yourself, what does a bark mean? Your friends at Highway Veterinary Hospital are here to decode this language for a better bond with your furry friend.

Deciphering the Bark

Most dog lovers try and figure out what their pets are saying to them. We speculate a lot, but sometimes feel certain that we, in fact, understand our Fidos. Barks are actually a great way to learn more about your dog because it is one of the ways they communicate to their peers (and sometimes, to us, although we may not understand).

There are several notable types of barks that mean certain things.

Howling – When your four-legged cuts loose and howls, are they trying to attract coyotes? Probably not. Dogs howl for a few reasons, some of which are spurred on by a passing ambulance or police siren. Howling in wolves has been shown to be a location call, sort of a, “Hey, I’m over here” call to fellow wolves. Howls can also say to the pet owner that they are lonely or frustrated. It’s a call of attention.

High-pitching yap or bark – The higher the pitch in a dog’s bark, the more excited and happy they are. This bark indicates that your pup is feeling playful and content, not in the slightest threatened by anything. It is a bark of communicating they are enjoying the activity or your company (or both).

Rapid barking – Rapid barking, especially if your pet is outdoors or in another part of the home, is one that means they’re concerned about something. They want to get you to pay attention to something in their environment, whether that’s a skunk or squirrel or a stranger, or anything that catches them off guard that they want you to know about.

Whining – This behavior may be annoying to us, and for good reason. Whining is another way for your pet to get your attention or to get something they want, such as food or to go outside. Whining, though, can also mean your pet is in pain. If your pet suffers from a condition or illness, whining can mean their pain has increased. Definitely follow up with us for an examination.

Growling – If your dog growls at a passerby or even you and they are not mock-growling during play, it means they are not pleased. Growling is a way for them to say, “back off” and is often used as a precursor to a bite. Growling can be a problem for dogs who suffer from fear and aggression. Resist punishing your pet for growling because they may not growl to warn in the future, and simply bite or nip. Growling is a sign that your pet needs more training and socialization and would be benefited from additional work with your veterinarian or trainer.

Woofs – Barks that are medium-pitched and short in duration are your typical greeting barks. You will see this when your dog recognizes another dog friend or human they like. It’s the “woof” dogs are most known for, and occurs when they are comfortable and at ease with their surroundings.

The Dog Bark Redux

We hope this has given you some insight into what your dog is expressing through their barks. If your dog’s barking goes into turbo mode, or they are reacting to specific things, such as strangers, noise, etc., please contact us. Your pet’s bark may be trying to tell you something about their behavior or health needs.