Dogs may bark, woof, or bow-wow in English, but other languages have other interpretations of the sound that dogs make, including waouh (in French), guau (Spanish), voff (Icelandic), wan (Japanese), and blaf (Dutch). But however many ways we humans have to say it, experts seem to agree that dogs around the world are consistent in what each type of bark is communicating.
According to Stanley Coren, author of a number of books on dogs and their behavior, barks can easily be decoded if you pay attention to their pitch, duration, and frequency. A low-pitched bark or growl may be a dog’s way of trying to sound as big as possible (and therefore more threatening), while a higher-pitched whimper can convey that he intends no harm. Coren says that sounds with a longer duration indicate a dog means business, while shorter ones mean that he’s less certain, and possibly fearful. And the more quickly and repeatedly he’s barking, the more urgency he’s communicating, whether he’s excited (“throw the ball!”) or feeling alarmed (“there’s a dangerous stranger at the door!”)
“A LOW-PITCHED BARK OR GROWL MAY BE A DOG'S WAY OF TRYING TO SOUND AS BIG AS POSSIBLE, WHILE A HIGHER-PITCHED WHIMPER CAN CONVEY THAT HE INTENDS NO HARM.”
With thanks to Coren and his co-author Sarah Hodgson (Understanding Your Dog for Dummies) here are some of the bark types you might hear from your own canine companion:
Greetings and Salutations
- The howdy bark: One or two short barks in a high or midrange pitch is his way of saying hello to familiar people.
- The "I'm here" howl: Not to be confused with the lonely howl, your dog is announcing his presence, socializing long distance, and staking turf. (It’s not at all mournful, though that’s how it sounds to humans.)
- The "on-alert" bark: A series of 2-4 rapid barks in a midrange pitch, with pauses in-between, indicate that he’s feeling more interested than threatened.
- The alarm bark: Rapid frequent barking indicates a higher level of excitement than the “on-alert” bark…something unexpected but not worrisome is going on.
- The 3-alarm bark: Continuous barking that’s slower and lower indicates that he senses a threat of some kind.
- The "back-off" bark: A soft, low-pitched bark is meant to warn others that he’s annoyed and that they should stay away.
- The growl-bark: This has a higher midrange pitch, indicating that he’s uncertain but will use aggression if pushed.
"I need my pack"
- The "where is everybody?" bark: A long series of solitary barks punctuated by pauses.
- The lonely howl: Sounds like a yip-yip-yip-howl, with the howl drawn out.
Is his barking excessive?
Dogs who are stressed because they’re bored, frustrated, lonely, or feeling cooped up can sometimes bark excessively. If this is your dog, try to provide more opportunities for exercise so he isn’t trying to burn off excess energy with his barking. While you’re gone, make sure he has plenty of toys to play with—a treat-dispensing toy can keep many dogs happily occupied for hours.