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What do different dog barks mean?

4 minutes
What do different dog barks mean?
Last update: 21 June, 2018

Barks go together with body posture and tail movement. The dog wants to “say” something depending on the situation.

One of the key elements in canine communication is vocalization. We actually have the ability to understand dogs when they communicate, but we have to take the environment into account. If you want to understand what different dog barks mean, these are the key points.

Understanding dog barks

Canine communication is easy to understand if certain factors are taken into account. Dogs are always communicating among themselves, with us, and with the rest of their environment. They don’t just communicate with their voices.

Their body posture is very important, as well as their body movements. How they move their tail is another way they’re constantly giving us information. But we also have to keep the context in mind in order to understand this information.

That is, the meaning of dog barks is not the same when they’re playing in the park with their friends, when they’re alone at home, and when there’s a lot of noise, like in a busy street. Now read on to understand barking, remembering that context matters.


Excited barks often accompany a lot of tail or body movement. The dog wants to tell us that he’s very nervous or excited, whether positively or negatively.

Dog barks.

The situation will tell you if he’s happy or overwhelmed by nerves. This bark is characterized by short, consecutive, and usually quite sharp sounds. It’s a bark that makes us humans also nervous, and it can be annoying.


Something else that dog barks communicate — a meaning we overlook too much — is frustration. When a dog wants something, can’t reach it, and gets upset, he may produce sharp, long, and isolated barks.

You may confuse these barks with ones dogs use to get our attention. And usually they do also have that purpose. The dog wants us to know that there is something that he wants to reach but can’t.


Every dog reacts differently to fear: some get paralyzed while others can’t sit still, wandering around, barking, and even jumping. Therefore, a bark of fear varies by dog and moment, but its characteristics are:

  • Very loud barks, or very soft ones.
  • Long and slow barks, or short and quick ones.
  • Sometimes growling before barking.


Of all dog barks, this is maybe the easiest to identify. They aren’t short or long barks; they are consecutive; and they are not fast. In addition, the dog will look for you. He will point out what is worrying him or what he’s warning us about.

A dog barking.

To tell what our dog is warning us about, we’ll look to the context and what he’s pointing at. Also, we will have to see if he’s barking at us in order to warn another person.

Learned barks or calls for attention

Dogs can also bark to get attention. In fact, it’s one of the methods that we best respond to. One of the defining characteristics of this sound is that it stops when we pay attention to him or when the dog gets what he wants.

Typically, a learned bark consists of sounds that aren’t very loud (although they may get louder if we don’t pay attention to him), and that are spaced out by a few seconds. You could almost say that between barks, there is just enough space to say “Quiet!” or “No!”

However, since this bark is learned, it can change with time. His goal is for us to pay attention to him or give him something. Therefore, he will test out different barks until he finds the one that makes us react.

Howling for help

It’s not exactly a bark, but when calling for help dogs use a very characteristic sound: howling. Howling is a call for help to a dog’s human family or other dogs. It’s very difficult to confuse it with any other sound.

Dogs howl back at each other, and this is the reason why they howl when ambulances go by: they feel the need to communicate to the thing that is emitting a call for help.

Barks are an important part of canine communication, but they’re not the only element. Movement, body position, and facial expressions are elements to take into account if you want to understand your dog. And don’t forget the context, since it also has an influence on dog barks.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.