Our canine companions talk to us every single day. From a simple hello to something with a bit more meaning, dogs have a variety of sounds in order to communicate what they really want from us and others around them. Unlike humans, this set of sounds is universally understood by dog-kind around the world.

How to tell what a dog’s bark means

A bark can have a mixture of different meanings and emotions attached to it. By using a range of vocals that slightly change, they have created a language that includes a broad spectrum of sentences. By narrowing it down to a few points, you can use this to understand what your four-legged friend means more often!

dog singing in to a microphone

The pitch

In a nutshell, the general rule is that the higher the pitch, the happier they are.

If your pooch is making a higher pitched sound then they are communicating somewhere between positive to non-threatening. You can consider this as the ‘safe zone’ as your dog is saying that they’re not feeling aggressive.

On the other hand, a lower tone can mean that they do feel threatened and that you should give them some space.

Duration or length

The duration of a sound indicates how serious they are about their intentions. If their bark is longer in duration then this means that they are dedicated to whatever action they are planning. For example, if a dog is faced with a threat, a longer growl will tell us that they are going to be standing their ground.

puppy having a yawn

Frequency or repetition

The frequency and repetition of a bark can indicate how urgent a situation is in the eyes of your dog. If they are barking very frequently, it means that they are trying to guide your attention to something that gives them excitement or a potential hazard.

The further apart the sounds, the less urgently they need your attention! 

What about other sounds?

After covering the differences in a standard bark, let’s take a look at the other types of sounds our canines can make and what they’re trying to tell us.


This is probably the biggest indicator of the ancestory that our dogs have in their DNA. It’s the easiest form of long range communication and can mean a few different things:

  • Follow my voice
  • Keep away
  • I’m lonely
  • What is that noise?


Whining is your dog’s way of telling you they want attention. Whether they are sad, excited or possibly need something from you, a whine is there to get you to look at them. This generally happens in puppies but older dogs can do it as well!

sad pug


A growl can be the most obvious form of communication in terms of what our dogs are trying to tell us. It’s a clear sign that they are feeling irritated or uncomfortable in a situation. This is something you should never punish them for, simply remove that from the upsetting situation for them to calm. If they are punished for growling, they may not let you know they’re uncomfortable in the future and go straight for a defensive move.

There is an exception to this rule which is when in play; if the dog is loose when in play then all is well but if they start to become rigid it means something completely different.

Does your dog communicate with you in any of these ways? Or maybe you have a language only you two can understand? Tweet us at @barkingheads or head to our Facebook page!


Read our Dental Tips blog by Vet Dr Scott Miller and Barking Heads, answering all your questions on dental health and how to take care of your pets teeth!


*The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified pet health provider with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s health*