The answer to the question, “Why do dogs bark?” may seem obvious: To communicate, of course! However, there are lots of things your pup may be trying to communicate by barking and the trick is to try to understand what he is saying and minimize the noise levels in the process. You do not necessarily want to prevent your dog from barking at all – that would be like preventing you from ever vocalizing again – but you may want to train your pup to bark only when necessary to convey information to you.
Note that there is ONE type of dog which does not bark: the Basenji. Years ago I rescued a malnourished stray who was so traumatized that he didn’t utter a sound for days.
Based on the non-barking and his appearance, I concluded that he was a Basenji. Imagine my surprise when he finally came out of his trauma-induced near-catatonic state, put on 60 pounds and became the very vocal life of the party. Most definitely NOT a Basenji after all!
As you try to figure out why your dog is barking and interpret the meaning of different barks by referring to the lists below, you may also want to also refer to our handy “Dog to English Translation Chart” and pair the bark with your dog’s body language to get a more accurate interpretation. Soon you will be fluent in canine.
Common causes of barking
In addition to body language, your pup communicates vocally by barking, whining, growling and yipping. Each sound is meant to communicate something different. In addition to listening to the bark, think about why he may be barking (e.g. Is there someone at the door?; Has it been a while since you took him for a walk?; Is it mealtime?) and pay attention to your dog’s body language and what is happening around your pup. We have listed below some of the reasons your pup may be barking but this is not an exhaustive list:
- Hello! Just as we say “hello” and verbally greet others, our pups like to greet us with a ‘happy’ bark. This type of barking generally ends once we return the greeting. Dogs may also bark out of excitement while playing and interacting with us and with other four-legged friends. Not to anthropomorphize our pups, but just think about all the vocalizing we humans do when we get together with our friends!
- Give me some attention! In addition to pawing, bumping and jumping, our pups use barks to get our attention. Try to figure out if your pup may need to go outside, if it’s mealtime or if he just wants to play with you or gest some affection.
- Boredom: This is another instance in which you need to look at the particular situation: Have you paid any attention to your dog recently? Are there any toys for him to play with? Does he have any other four-legged companions? Is it time for a walk? Generally once you address the situation, the barking will stop.
- Frustration: If your dog has been trying unsuccessfully to get your attention or is stuck outside or has been confined to one room for a long time and can hear activity on the other side of the door he may bark to alert you to the situation and try to get you to change it. Your pup needs daily attention, exercise and mental stimulation just as you do so be sure to interact with him on a regular basis, go on walks and just spend time together.
- Fear: Dogs commonly bark in reaction to strange people, situations, other animals and loud noises (including construction, thunder and fireworks) which cause your pup fear or anxiety. Think about the way you may scream when startled or shout when confronted with something that scares you.
- Pain: My 16 ½ year old wolf-mix, Nasha, has severe arthritis and when she is trying to sit or lie down, she barks, in a high pitched, piercing way, until she has settled into the pose she wants. The only thing I can figure out is that this is her outlet to deal with the pain the motion causes. Once she has settled into whatever position she wants to lie down in, she immediately stops barking. Again, pay attention to when your dog is barking and see if there is any pattern or situation in which he consistently barks.
- Health Issues: In addition to barking to indicate pain, your pup may have dementia or may be suffering from a health condition which is causing him discomfort. If your dog engages in persistent and seemingly random barking on a regular basis, you may want to take him to your vet to see if there is an underlying health condition causing the barking.
- Separation anxiety: This is another type of fear and frustration and your pup will express this in many ways, including barking, whining and howling. Read here to find out how best to help your pup deal with separation anxiety.
- Sound the Alarm! Perhaps the most common bark trigger is the appearance of a ‘stranger’, either human or animal or, in the case of my pack, “package on the front deck!!!” Your pup is just trying to alert you to the presence of something out of the norm so that you can come and deal with the situation. Generally, once he sees that you are calm and unperturbed by the person at the door or that box on the deck, the barking will stop. Also remember that when your pup barks because someone is walking by the house or the yard and that person keeps moving and eventually disappears, your pup may think to himself, “Well, that was a job well done – I ran him right off the property and protected everyone I love!” Of course, he may be thinking nothing of the sort…
Translations of Common Dog Barks
In 2016 K9 Magazine published “translations” of 10 common dog barks and barking patterns and we’ve provided that list, slightly edited, here:
- Continuous rapid barking, midrange pitch:If this is done near the front door, at a fence line or anywhere someone may approach your house or yard, you dog may be alerting you to an approaching person or animal. If the continuous barking slows down a bit but is at a lower pitch, your pup may be trying to tell you that the intruder or danger is very close and that you should be ready to defend yourself.
- Barking in rapid strings of three or four with pauses in between, midrange pitch: “There may be a problem or an intruder near our territory. You (human) should look into it.” When this sort of thing happens here in my home, once I appear and calmly inform all the pups that everything is OK, they generally lose interest and stop barking. They’ve done their job and passed responsibility on to me.
- Prolonged or incessant barking, with moderate to long intervals between each utterance:“Is there anybody there? I’m lonely and need companionship.” This is most often the response to confinement or being left alone for long periods of time.
- One or two sharp short barks, midrange pitch:“Hello!” This is the most typical greeting sound and generally stops once you – or whoever your dog is trying to greet – return the greeting.
- Single sharp short bark, lower midrange pitch:“Stop that!” Used by a mother to discipline her puppies or by any dog to indicate annoyance or back someone off, especially small human children who may not yet have learned “gentle”.
- Single sharp short bark, higher midrange:“What’s this?” or “Huh?” This is a startled or surprised sound. If repeated two or three times the meaning changes to “Come look at this!” alerting you to something that needs your attention but is not necessarily threatening. Nasha, my arthritic wolf girl, uses this short, sharp and high pitched bark to summon me to assist her with getting up, get her water or tell me she needs some attention. Many dogs also use this kind of bark at the door to indicate that they want to go out. Lowering the pitch to a relaxed midrange means “Great!” or something similarly positive.
- Single yelp or very short high-pitched bark:“Ouch!” This is in response to a sudden, unexpected pain.
- Series of yelps:“I’m hurting!” or “I’m really scared!” Your pup will use this bark to let you know that he is in severe pain and/or experiencing overwhelming fear – which may be caused by the pain.
- Stutter-bark, midrange pitch:If a dog’s bark were spelled “ruff,” the stutter-bark would be spelled “ar-ruff.” It means “Let’s play!” and is used to initiate playing behavior.
- Rising bark: Usually a series of barks, each of which starts in the middle range but rises sharply in pitch to create almost a bark-yelp, though not quite as high as a pure yelp. This is a play bark, used during rough-and-tumble games, to show excitement and translates as “This is fun!”
Now that you have this handy canine to human dictionary, you will be able to communicate even better with your canine fur babies.
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