Similar to humans, dogs vocalize, or bark, to communicate. They will bark for many reasons. When listening to their bark, it’s possible to learn a lot about their non-verbal communication as well as how they feel about a situation.
For example, studies show that low pitched barks with short inter-bark intervals are considered aggressive. Meanwhile, high pitched barks with long intervals between barks are considered playful and happy.
The same study indicated that like humans, a dog’s bark also carried emotional valances, meaning the tone of their bark will change when they perceive a situation as pleasant or unpleasant. For instance, shorter call lengths were rated as more positive, whereas those with a higher pitch were rated as more intense.
By listening to the tone, pitch, and intensity of the dog’s bark, much like how we read each other’s mood by listening to the tone of voice, we can learn to read what our dog is trying to say.
The sound of the bark, repetition of the sounds, and pitch of the bark all play a role in communicating. Low pitched sounds may mean a thread or aggression while an excited yappy bark may be saying, “pet me.” Reading a dog’s body language is also important to understanding their bark.
Since dogs can’t talk, they must rely on their vocalization skills to get attention. Their language skills include whining, moaning, howling, whimpering, and barking. Each one of these vocalizations contains a variety of sounds and messages. Dogs will bark for many reasons including:
A greeting bark is welcoming and signals an alert but not an alarm. It’s a mid range tone, two barks in succession. It’s usually a happy sound because the dog is happy about seeing whoever is near.
Play with Me
The come play with me bark can be a huffing bark that can sound like a cough. It comes with happy body language or a playful bow. It can accompany other sounds like a high pitched yap.
Dogs alert bark for many reasons including to let you know some is approaching your home, territorial barking, or alerting to something unusual that’s taking place. This type of barking is usually loud, sharp, successive, nonstop barks, and is alarming because it’s meant to sound an alarm.
When dogs are truly angry, on guard, on the defense, or warning they will bite, the bark is longer in duration and lower in pitch. It’s a deep bark that may be accompanied by a growl, showing teeth, and lunging - the bark sends a clear message: if you don’t back off, I will bite you. This dog is confident and has no plans to back off.
A dog that is defensive, on guard but also fearful and upset will bite. However, their bark is high pitched and shorter in duration than the angry defender bark. This bark is short, sending sharp blasts that signal that the dog will defend and bite but the dog is nervous because it lacks confidence.
Some dogs will bark due to separation anxiety. This high pitched bark is usually accompanied with whining when the owner leaves the house. Dogs that bark due to separation related disorders usually start to whine when the owner leaves and within a couple minutes, will start frantic, high pitched, escalating barking. This type of barking is stressful for dog, owner, and annoying to the neighbors
To Call the Pack
This is usually a mid range, repetitive, long string of barks that is neither very intense nor aggressive. Dogs will bark to call their owners home or to call out to other dogs. You’ve heard this when it seems as if all the dogs in the neighborhood are barking at the same time. Usually if you stop and listen, a pattern of communication or pauses can be heard.
When dogs bark for attention it’s a high pitched, repetitive, look at me bark. Some dogs have learned that when they bark, they will get attention from their owner; even if it’s negative attention (some form of attention if better than no attention at all).
Reward / Learned Behavior
Sharp, quick, and high pitched, this bark is meant to be demanding. A dog will bark like this because when it does, it receives some sort of reward. This could be to be let in or out, to get treats, to get people away from their property, or to chase the neighborhood cat away. For whatever reason, when the dog barks, something good happens, in the dog’s opinion.
Boredom Barking – Barking Innate Reasons
This type of bark is low pitched, repetitive, and monotone. Meaning the dog has started barking at something interesting but is now just barking out of habit at nothing in particular or for physiological reasons.
Dogs will bark for countless reasons and have emotional responses to all types of situations. The higher the pitch of their bark, the more excited they are. A low and slow sound is more of a warning. There are many inflections between these ranges and by paying attention to your dog’s vocalizations in familiar situations, you can get a gauge about how your dog is feeling in new ones.