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Norman, a 55th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, waits to be unleashed and go after his target during training April 17. The Offutt K-9 unit performs regular training to maximize the dogs effectiveness in the field. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Josh Plueger)

Just as human beings communicate with each other using predominantly languages, animals also have their methods of communications through vocal sounds. The vocal sounds that dogs make are generally categorized as barks and these bark sounds mean different things depending on their moods and states of mind. To communicate their moods or feelings, these bark sounds are characterized by in various pitches, duration and frequency. This mood or feeling is then directly communicated to the person, animal or thing that is being barked at. However, a lot of us find it difficult to decipher this communication that dogs when they bark – sometimes to our own peril.

Barking is usually based on three dimensions: the pitch of the sound, the duration of the sound, and the frequency or repetition rate of the sounds.

Variation in pitches: Low pitched sounds (such as a dog’s growl) usually indicate threats, anger and the possibility of aggression. These are interpreted as meaning “Stay away from me.”  High pitch sounds mean the opposite, asking to be allowed to come closer or saying that it is safe to approach, or could even mean pain (as in a yelp)

Variation in durations: Generally speaking, the longer the sound, the more likely that the dog is making a conscious decision about the nature of the signal and his next behaviors. Thus, the threatening growl of a dominant dog that has every intention of holding his ground and not backing down will be both low pitched and also long and sustained. If the growl is in shorter bursts, and only held briefly, it indicates there is an element of fear present and the dog is worried about whether it can successfully deal with an attack.

Variation in frequency: Sounds which are repeated often, at a fast rate, indicate a degree of excitement and urgency. Sounds that are spaced out, or not repeated, usually indicate a lower level of excitement. A dog giving an occasional bark or two at the window is only showing mild interest in something. A dog barking in multiple bursts and repeating them many times a minute is signaling that he feels that the situation is important and perhaps even a potential crisis.


Now let’s categorize and explain the variety of bark sounds that you will usually hear from dogs;

  1. Rapidly repeated continuous barks in runs of 2 to 4:

This is classic bark of alarm that all dogs make when they see or sense an intruder, stranger or some danger that they sense is approaching; or to warn their pack of something that may be threatening. This kind of bark can be interjected with short-medium deep growls that attempt to warn of the threat or intruder and let them know that they are willing to attack at any time.


  1. One or two middle to high-pitched barks, short and sharp.

This is a bark that indicates a playful, greeting and welcoming dog. This is the dog’s way of saying hello and is usually reserved for people or animals or things that a dog recognizes and is friendly with.

  1. A medium pitch stuttering bark:

This is the bark of a playful dog, asking another to join in. They will usually bark like this when they want you to throw a ball, or for another dog to join in a chase. Interestingly, this bark is usually given with front legs flat on the ground and rear held high and simply means “Come on, Let’s play!”

  1. A very quick, very high, short sharp yelp:

This is the sound made when a dog experiences a short, sharp pain that is sudden and surprising. For example, when a dog accidentally steps on a sharp object or when you accidentally step on a dog’s tail or hit a dog with something that elicits painful from the dog.

  1. Long sequence of high-pitched, short and quick yelps:

When a dog continuously makes a high-pitched yelping sound, then it is very likely that the dog is in continuous pain and quickly needs some help. It is important to respond immediately to this kind of sound as it may be life-threatening and it is even generally uncomfortable to the ears.

  1. One low to medium pitched, loud but short bark:

This is the sound of an annoyed or moody dog. The dog is typically annoyed at another animal or person, thereby barking at whoever or whatever it is to stop whatever disturbance they are causing and simply back off.

  1. Single barks with long deliberate pauses in between, going on for hours:

This is the noise made by a dog who is lonely and is asking for some company or companionship. It is a somewhat sad and lonely sound.

  1. Howling:

This could mean that the dog is feeling abandoned, sad and lonely, calling out for company or companionship. However, if it is a long drawn out howl, then it could just mean that the dog is simply communicating to other dogs or animals over long distance, just like they would in the wild.


References – Totally Golden and Psychology Today



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