Sometimes it feels like you need to be psychic in order to understand your four-legged friend. You may find yourself wondering: What does that bark mean? Does that growl mean he or she is angry or scared? What is he or she trying to tell me with that whimpering? “Dog talk” can be really confusing and it usually varies from dog to dog. Typically, understanding dog communication involves some body language as well, but there are a few general rules when it comes to deciphering how dogs communicate.
The Multi-Purpose Bark
Everyone can agree that our pups are trying to tell us something with their barks. However, what it is they want to communicate depends on the tone of the bark and the precise situation.
Barking can represent different things to different dogs.
The pitch or volume of the bark will increase with the dog’s level of emotion, so it’s worthwhile to pay attention to the bark and try to understand what your dog is trying to say. Here are a few things your pup’s bark might mean:
- Territorial/Protective. If a person or animal enters an area your dog considers his or her “territory,” that often elicits excessive barking. As the perceived threat gets closer, the barking often gets louder and more incessant. Your dog will look alert and possibly seem aggressive during this type of barking.
- Alarm/Fear. Some dogs will bark at any noise or object that startles them. This can happen anywhere, not just on their home turf.
- Boredom/Loneliness. Dogs are pack animals and by nature, don’t like being by themselves. If left alone for long periods of time they can become bored or sad and may start barking because they are unhappy.
- Happiness/Greeting/Play. Dogs often bark when greeting people or other animals. They’re happy and this bark is usually more high-pitched, accompanied with tail wags and sometimes jumping.
- Attention Seeking. Sometimes a dog will bark when they want something, such as a treat, to go outside, or to play.
- Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking. Dogs who bark excessively when left alone often suffer separation anxiety. These dogs often exhibit other symptoms such as pacing, destructiveness, depression and inappropriate bathroom habits. They often make repetitive movements, such as running in circles or along a fence and seem to bark just to hear the sound of their own voices. This type of barking is not considered healthy and it is recommended to seek consultation with a veterinarian or a trainer.
The Multi-Meaning Growl
Most people assume a growling dog is angry. He or she is telling you to stay away and if you don’t, you might get bitten. In some cases, this may be true – but not always. There are actually a range of things your gnarling pooch might be trying to tell you, and if you listen closely, you will hear that not all growling noises sound the same.
Dogs growl to communicate a variety of things, from fear and aggression, anger and fatigue, to encouraging play. Understanding the situation and the type of specific growl your dog is making will help you recognize what your dog is trying to say. Like most of dog communication, it’s all about context!
The Woeful Whimper
Dogs whimper or whine for many reasons. For some dogs, this is a normal way they express excitement or when they want something. A dog may whimper out of frustration because he or she needs to go outside or can’t reach a toy trapped behind the sofa. A dog might have anxiety about something, like getting in the car, and this can cause whimpering as well.
Sometimes however, there could be underlying health issues that are causing a dog to whimper. If you notice other symptoms in your dog, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, limping, loss of appetite or lethargy, accompanied with the whimpering, it’s important to seek medical attention. Likewise, if you can’t find any reason that your dog might be whimpering, you should consult your veterinarian because your pup might be trying to tell you that something is wrong.
The Ancient Howl
Wolves howl into the night to make contact with their pack and identify their territory. Our four-legged companions, descendants of wolves, have evolved over time and either rarely howl or are no longer able to do so.
There are some dogs however, who do still rely on howling as a form of communication. These dogs are often alone for long periods of time and they are trying to attract attention or make contact with others.
Some dogs also howl in response to high-pitched sounds such as emergency vehicle sirens, musical instruments or other dog howls.
While it may seem like you need to possess psychic abilities to understand dog communication, what it really takes is a little keen observation. Paying attention to the pitch of a bark and the tone of a growl, combined with your dog’s body language – and putting it all in context – may be just the formula you need to decode what your dog is trying to tell you. After all, dogs have spent centuries trying to understand humans in order to please us, this is the least we could do for them.