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What Does My Dog’s Bark Mean? A Dog Bark Translation Guide

If you’re like me, you respond to each bark, growl, and whine your dog elicits.  Yes, Johan, they can understand me and I understand them.  I know each of my dogs by their bark and I’m familiar with their different barks.  I bet most dog owners can say the same, but that doesn’t mean we’re right.

Here’s a list of the reason behind 10 different barks from K9 Magazine and what they mean along with my person experience.  Enjoy!

What Does My Dog’s Bark Mean?

a dog bark translation guide

Continuous rapid barking, midrange pitch: “Call the pack! There is a potential problem! Someone is coming into our territory!” Continuous barking but a bit slower and pitched lower: “The intruder [or danger] is very close. Get ready to defend yourself!”

We can see two neighbors from our property and our dogs will engage in this barking when one of them has the audacity to exit their home.  I’m pretty sure Diane (not her real name) is convinced our dogs hate her.  They’re just letting her know not to come over (not that she has in the 3 years we’ve lived here).

Barking in rapid strings of three or four with pauses in between, midrange pitch: “I suspect that there may be a problem or an intruder near our territory. I think that the leader of the pack should look into it.”

Coyote (or dog or deer) alert.  Something it walking along the perimeter in the middle of the night (our dogs have access to their yard 24/7) and the dogs have decided to investigate vocally.

Prolonged or incessant barking, with moderate to long intervals between each utterance: “Is there anybody there? I’m lonely and need companionship.” This is most often the response to confinement or being left alone for long periods of time.

At our house, this bark is a Rodrigo trademark and translates to “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.”  The dogs just want to be in the house with us and Rodrigo only does this when he knows that I’m home.  The dogs know that Johan isn’t such a pushover.

One or two sharp short barks, midrange pitch: “Hello there!” This is the most typical greeting sound.

I get this bark along with lots of running and three happy faces; you know, the typical You Finally Made it Home parade dogs throw us every day.

Single sharp short bark, lower midrange pitch: “Stop that!” This is often given by a mother dog when disciplining her puppies but may also indicate annoyance in any dog, such as when disturbed from sleep or if hair is pulled during grooming and so forth.

Rodrigo and Sydney shares this vocal when Blue won’t stop biting her ankles or pulling her tail and she’s not in the mood to play.  Blue barks this way when Rodrigo is threatening to take a way a loved toy.

Single sharp short bark, higher midrange: “What’s this?” or “Huh?” This is a startled or surprised sound. If it is repeated two or three times its meaning changes to “Come look at this!” alerting the pack to a novel event. This same type of bark, but not quite as short and sharp, is used to mean “Come here!”

Many dogs will use this kind of bark at the door to indicate that they want to go out. Lowering the pitch to a relaxed midrange means “Terrific!” or some other similar expletive, such as “Oh, great!”

In our house, this is Rodrigo’s way of letting us know that he has to go out.  Maybe he’s saying “oh, great, I have to pee again.”  Once he’s reached a point of barking, he’s ready to go.  Sydney and Blue go to the door when they need to go out.

Single yelp or very short high-pitched bark: “Ouch!” This is in response to a sudden, unexpected pain.

This one breaks my heart and when Rodrigo and Sydney were puppies, this yelp was soon followed by “come to Mommy” and now they look for me when they get hurt.  We heard this after bee stings, pulled muscles, and play that was too rough.  We investigate, examine, hug and then go to the house or to the vet depending on what we find.

Series of yelps: “I’m hurting!” “I’m really scared” This is in response to severe fear and pain.

Sydney did this one when she pulled a muscle and it broke everyone’s heart.  Even the veterinarian apologized to her many times after making her walk.  We used to hear this one when our dogs were puppies (someone stole my toy, I want Mommy, etc), but now it only comes up when they’re injured.

Stutter-bark, midrange pitch: If a dog’s bark were spelled “ruff,” the stutter-bark would be spelled “ar-ruff.” It means “Let’s play!” and is used to initiate playing behavior.

In our house, this bark is another Rodrigo trademark.  He was taught not to bark in the house, so if he needs to tell us something (Blue has my toy, I can’t reach a toy, I want a toy) then he’ll do this bark.  Enough to get our attention, but not enough to end up in Time Out.

Rising bark: This is a bit hard to describe, although once you’ve heard it, it is unmistakable. It is usually a series of barks, each of which starts in the middle range but rises sharply in pitch – almost a bark-yelp, though not quite that high. It is a play bark, used during rough-and- tumble games, that shows excitement and translates as “This is fun!”

In our house, this is the “we’re going for a walk” or “we’re going bye-bye” bark and we usually only hear it with the boys.  Sydney is pretty mellow and just runs from door to door with her tail wagging.


Now it’s your turn.  Can you interpret each of your dog’s barks?


  1. I feel sorry for the Basenji owners….they must feel so left out of this discussion… 😉

    • LOL – are they quiet? Come to think of it, I’ve never heard one make a peep.

      • Basenjis are referred to as the “Barkless Dog”. They actually make a sound that is closer to a “yodel”. It’s rather odd sounding.

  2. Dakota the corgi isn’t a big barker, which is unusual for a corgi and for which I am very grateful. However, every night after dark she goes out into the yard and barks. And barks. And barks. Kind of like your first example. Does she hear something stirring in the woods? Do the shadows of the trees from the light pole make her think something is there? I go outside and there is nothing and nobody. We live in the country, so critters could be moving about in the dark. Her Squirrel!!!! bark is distinctive, high pitched but not continuous.

    • Sometimes our dogs will do that; usually there’s a critter in the yard and they’re letting them know that this property is spoken for – it sucks when they do it at 1 am (they have access to their yard 24/7), because they wake up all the dogs and then there’s the chorus of dogs chatting. Little buggers.

  3. Yes, definitely! Although I don’t have a dog of my own at the moment, I do interpret my client’s barks quite well. This comes from experience and I’m not surprised that you have this skill also, Kimberley. People often give me strange looks when I’m out walking with them, because I keep up a running dialogue. “Crazy Dog Lady” 😀

    • I’m there with you. I love having chats with our dogs and cats. My boyfriend thought it was silly, but now he does the same thing. I’ll sometimes sit on the stairs and just listen to his chatter with the dogs. Hilarious.

  4. haha This is great! Titan has many different barks and many different actions when he does it. I think I can understand most of em, but he changes it up on me! Ugh…. just when I think I know. 😉

    • LOL – I’m still cracking up at the picture of him pouting, then looking back to make sure you’re watching. You must be laughing every single day!

      • Oh trust me, it’s not laughs all the time. He has his lil quirks that I still have to deal with but he’s well worth it. :)

  5. Mom usually knows what we are barking about…I have my there is a critter in front of my window call and my hunting call when I am hot in the chase :)

    • LOL! I would love to see your hunting call!

  6. Just had this conversation yesterday. I was asked if I could interpret Leo’s barks. I think I can. When we tried to practice desensitizing him to a bicycle last weekend, he let out an incessant stream of anxious, fairly high-pitched barks, because Rob was on the bicycle. “Why does Daddy have wheels? This is so wrong.” When it’s a stranger, he barks lower and more ferociously. “Danger. Stay back. Don’t mess with me.”

    • Our dogs are terrible when it comes to bicycles. We tried the same thing – my boyfriend on the bike, me holding the dogs. Sydney thinks it’s cool and walks straight to the bike. Blue and Rodrigo might bark and might not. I think it’s a game for them and they just love to bark at strangers on bikes – they sound ferocious and I’m constantly apologizing. Horrible dogs – damn they crack me up!

  7. This is interesting, as I was reading I was trying to match what I was reading to how my dogs bark and it seems to ring pretty true. Generally Boone only barks when he want to play, but it is an incessant loud bark that he won’t stop until you make him. He’s a turd, LOL. Brinkley only barks when at guard. She usually starts with the single sharp short bark when she firsts thinks their is an issue (usually my ‘evil’ neighbor as well :)), however if she continues to see the neighbor or person/dog outside it progresses into the rapid strings of barking. I think watching thier body language while they are barking is a huge part of reading what they are really trying to convey also. I know my dogs body language way before a peep is uttered. I can tell before they even start to bark (and if I don’t want them to I can tell them not to) before they even open their mouths!

    • I do the exact same thing, Amanda! Rodrigo does this thing with his mouth before he’s going to bark and I’ll look at him and say “noooo barking.” And then I say “use your words,” which means show me what you want. Sometimes it’s to play, sometimes he can’t reach something beneath the sofa, sometimes it’s a cuddle, or he needs me to bring more water. He’s so brilliant.

  8. Absolutely they have their own barks and their own meanings. Our old dog Tino was probably the most verbal of our dogs with different barks for different events. Becca just loved to bark and she barked and barked at everything and nothing. Our two dogs now are very quiet. SlimDoggy Jack only barks warnings if someone is at the door…and maybe at an occasional loud plane or truck that appears to be invading his space. Maggie, interestingly does not bark at all…and I mean never. We’ve had her 8 months and not a peep. I’m sure it’s her upbringing (breeder mom from puppy farm) but it’s kind of weird. The only sound she makes is snoring…and an occasional dream yip. Odd for a Lab!

    • Our dogs are all very vocal and just crack me up; especially when we first get home when they’re barking to go play outside. It’s raining as I type his, which means that we’ll have a rainy walk on the Centennial Trail. Not my favorite, but the dogs love it so I’ll be out there with a smile, laughing as they bark out their excitement :)

  9. I think this is a pretty good translation. Sometimes I feel like Shiner is barking for no reason – she thinks she hears things sometimes. I guess in her mind, she’s barking for some pretty important reasons.

    • LOL – yep. Rodrigo was just barking at me and I was trying to figure it out and then I realized – you didn’t go potty when you went outside, did you? Nope. He ran to the nearest tree :)

  10. Great topic. Dogs’ vocalizations are fascinating. This brought back fond memories of a time when I lived on a 600-acre farm. There were farm dogs, neighbor dogs, and house dogs. My Max was my house boy – a big chocolate Lab. Many of the outside and neighbor dogs were hound mixes and they were all dear friends. Occasionally 5 or 6 of them would make their way to the driveway circle in front of the house to “sing”. Often it was after dark and it seemed that they were literally baying at the moon. Whenever this happened, Max wanted to join in, so I always let him out and enjoyed observing from the porch. Max apparently wanted to fit in so he tried really hard to bay along with the hounds. He would put that nose in the air and try his best to sound like his friends. The noise that came out of him was very much like a “moo”. It was SO funny and the memory makes me smile to this day.

    • Thanks for the great visual. I loved picturing this.

  11. I’ve never really thought about how different sounds could mean different things. My dog isn’t a big barker. The only times she really vocalizes that way is when someone knocks on the door or when she wants someone to go away. Barking for her is more of an alert than anything else. She will, however, occasionally bark at me in frustration if I don’t give her a treat fast enough when training or if I give her confusing signals on the agility course.

    After reading this, I wonder if I just haven’t paid enough attention to the difference in her sounds. You seem to be so in tune with each of your dogs and it’s impressive!

    • When I hear our dogs’ barking, I can sometimes hear what they’re saying. Rodrigo has a bark that is just “mommy, mommy, mommy” over and over. He’s had that one since he was a puppy. LOL


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