When it comes to the meaning of dog barks, they have many connotations. However, understanding what a dog bark is telling you could get you out of a potentially risky situation. And that’s got to be a good thing, right?!

Typically, the meaning of dog barks centres on three key factors: pitch, duration, and frequency. Of course, translating the meaning of dog barks also means understanding what associated whines, growls and grunts mean. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the three main elements of dog speak.

Decoding the meaning of dog barks: 3 main factors

Discovering the meaning of dog barks starts with recognising the various types of barks. In doing this you will be much better equipped to understand what your furry friend is saying to you.

Here are three principal elements to listen for.

1. Pitch

A low pitch sound, for example, a growl, suggests the dog feels threatened. It also indicates the potential for aggression. Typically, the dog is saying, “Stay back” or “go away”.

Alternatively, a high pitch bark means the opposite. The dog is saying, “Come to me”. According to the American Kennel Club, a general rule of thumb is, ‘the lower the bark, the more serious the dog’.

2. Duration of the sound

By and large, the longer the dog holds the sound, the greater likelihood it is a display of dominance. For example, if a dog sounds a low-pitched growl, which is sustained rather than short-lived, he is standing his ground.

On the other hand, a smaller dog may growl back, but it’s more likely it’ll be shorter growls. This suggests the little dog is a bit nervous about dealing with a possible attack.

3. Frequency of the bark

A single bark might suggest a dog is curious or slightly annoyed. For example, he might be asking, “what you doing?” or saying, “stop that”.

However, barks that come in quick succession with very short pauses between them may indicate the dog is feeling more aggressive, worked up or excited. Certainly, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Lassie, you’ll know that multiple bursts of barking may well be a signal that something is wrong!

Common barks to recognise

When trying to understand the meaning of dog barks it can be helpful to familiarise yourself with a few common barks. Here are five of the more widespread barks.

Bark #1: Two to four barks with pauses in between

The meaning: This is a typical alarm bark. It is alerting you and asking for your attention. The pause allows the dog to listen and assess before he sounds the alarm again!

Bark #2: Continuous low-pitch, fairly slow bark

The meaning: This is indicating a potential threat. The dog is urging you to “be prepared”.

Bark # 3: One or two short, sharp barks. The pitch may be high or mid-range

The meaning: ‘Hello!” This is friendly dog speak. Our four-legged friend is simply greeting you as best he can. It’s highly likely his tail will also be wagging back and forth quite fast, due to his excitement and pleasure.

Bark #4: A string of single barks with pauses in between

The meaning: “Come back!” “Where are you?” This is a plea for company.

Bark # 5: A low to mid-range “Harr-ruff”

The meaning: “Come, on, Let’s play! This type of bark is generally teamed with relaxed body language. The dog’s tail will be wagging and he might be looking at you attentively. He may even be posed like he’s ready to pounce!

Not only is it lots of fun to learn about the meaning of dog barks, but it can also be a really helpful way of assessing a situation — particularly when you work with dogs on a regular basis. You can also have a lot of fun trying to talk back to your dog!

Have you mastered “dog speak”?

Information sources:

  • Coren, S. What are dogs trying to say when they bark? Psychology Today. March 2011. Accessed online Nov 2020 via https://www.psychologytoday.com/
  • Gibeault, S. Learning to speak dog — The meaning of your dog’s bark. American Kennel Club. Dec 2017. Accessed online Nov 2020 via https://www.akc.org/.
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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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