How to understand your dog’s bark

Dogs bark when they’re excited, playful, nervous and lonely. It can be frustrating when you don’t know what they’re trying to tell you, but your dog probably feels the same!

Did you know the Basenji is one of the only dog breeds that doesn’t bark? This hunting dog from Africa is known for making a yodel-like sound, rather than an ordinary bark, due to its unusually shaped larynx. But unless you have a Basenji, it’s likely that your dog barks from time to time.

Barking is ordinary behaviour in dogs – and they don’t just bark for the sake of it. For them, barking is an important method of communication. With a bit of practice (and some help from the experts!), it’s possible to recognise and interpret the different kinds of bark your dog produces.

Here are some simple tips based on the years of research done by animal psychologists and behavioural experts to understand barking…

Pay attention to the pitch

The average human can make more than 500 distinct sounds of vowels and consonants, but our canine companions have a much more limited range of sounds. For this reason, dogs cleverly use the pitch of the sound they make to convey different meanings.

As renowned dog psychologist Stanley Coren has explained, a low-pitched sound is generally used to indicate a threatening stance and the possibility of aggression. A dog that makes a low-pitched growl is basically saying ‘stay away’. In contrast, a higher pitch will usually mean the opposite – the dog wants to come closer or is signalling that it is safe to approach.

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How long and frequent are the sounds?

Dogs also communicate how they’re feeling through the duration and frequency of their barks. With a longer sound, it’s likely that the dog is making a conscious decision about how it intends to behave. A dog that feels threatened and intends to stand its ground will therefore produce a low-pitched and sustained growl. On the other hand, a sound that is held only briefly indicates that the dog is less sure of itself.

Excitement and urgency is conveyed through repetition. If your dog is barking often, with only a short pause in between each sound, it’s probably very excited about something. When it makes an occasional bark (for example, at someone passing by the window), it is simply showing a mild interest.

Woman having breakfast, dog looking at her

Familiarise yourself with some common barks

Some of the most common barks have fairly standard interpretations. For example:
– Continuous, rapid barking (medium pitch) – this is the classic ‘alarm bark’, which your dog will use to alert you to something it feels you need to know about.
– One or two short, sharp barks (medium to high pitch) – a simple greeting bark. Your dog will use it when it sees a person it is familiar with.
– Stuttered bark (medium pitch) – this bark typically sounds a bit like ‘arr-Ruff!’ It’s a sign that your dog is in the mood to play.

Further information on how to interpret different kinds of bark can be found here. What kind of sounds does your dog produce? And do you always understand the meaning?

Let us know in the comments!

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