Dog owners typically feel very tuned into their dogs. They may be able to simply tell what their dogs want or need based on body language or facial expressions. Likewise, an experienced owner knows implicitly what their pup is trying to say when they woof, yap, growl, yelp, snarl, or howl.
The magic of a barking dog may be lost on someone disrupted by an intense, or repetitive bark (which can range between 80-100 decibels). However, dogs bark for many reasons, some of which provide great insight into complex canine emotions.
Dogs have proven to know a great deal about human emotions and moods. Since they are so dialed into us, we can return the favor by understanding why dogs bark.
A bark (or other canine sound) can be broken down into three communication categories:
- Pitch – You can tell what they’re feeling based on how high or low their bark is. A higher pitch indicates happiness or delight whereas a low pitch can be a warning. You might notice that when people want to engage with an unfamiliar dog they’ll use a higher pitch to draw their attention.
- Frequency – Depending on what’s happening in and around their home, dogs will typically respond in kind. For example, they may bark 1-2 times in response to a neighboring dog’s barking. Or they may bark in quick successive barks when the doorbell rings.
- Duration – Worthy of an owner’s intervention, a long, sustained, and lower bark usually conveys a dog’s unwavering perception of a hostile situation. Shorter bursts can mean various things, such as discomfort or fear. Dogs bark for long periods of time when they are frightened, hurt, or standing their ground.
Why Dogs Bark
Barking is an important tool that dogs use to communicate their feelings. The following is a map of sorts to help owners further understand (and appreciate) why dogs bark, and what it means:
- Attention-seeking barking says “play with me!” (also see happy tail wags and floppy tongue); they may also want a treat, a walk, or a bathroom break. This can sound either high-pitched or slightly growly, like the sound of a rrr-ruff! Remember, play time can quickly evolve into simulated fight time. Be mindful of the sound and quality of their bark, and back off if necessary.
- Territorial or protective barking is usually loud, aggressive, and rapid in a mid-pitch range.
- Fearful barking occurs when a dog feels threatened or afraid. Barking may be in quick succession with intermittent pauses at an average pitch, or a single sharp bark in a lower range.
- Boredom barking happens when dogs feel left out or lonely (as pack animals, dogs can experience separation anxiety that requires attention and sometimes veterinary intervention to reduce destructiveness, depression, and unwanted behaviors). There might be long pauses between barks, punctuated with mournful-sounding, incessant barks.
- Alarmed barking may stem from a painful injury, illness or experience. It may be a higher-pitched single or series of yelp/barks. Senior dogs may use these barks to alert you to specific ailments.
We Love Dogs!
We hope that by knowing a bit more about why dogs bark you can understand more about how your sweet pup feels. In other words, you can use their barks to help your dog live a happier, healthier life.
If you have additional questions about canine behavior and communications, please let us know.