Decoding Dog Sounds: 18 Examples With Meanings

Dogs use sounds to share how they're feeling and thinking about the world around them — and sometimes, sounds can give clues to underlying health issues.

Updated January 15, 2024
Dog lying on the bed and barking

Perhaps part of the reason the canine is such a desirable pet is that it is a very vocal animal, often communicating feelings, needs, and wants with their owners through varying verbal sounds. This comes as no surprise since dogs in the wild lead a social existence, communicating regularly with other members of their packs. As a pet parent, learning what the sounds and noises your dog makes mean can only help your relationship grow and flourish. If your dog is making noises of any sort, it means they have something to say about their emotions and the current state of their world.

Barking

The number-one communication tool for most dogs is their bark. Each dog uses their bark in different ways, depending on the situation and the context of the event. A pet owner may hear their dog bark both in play and in distress. To better understand the basic bark, there are a few things that must be taken into consideration to tell what kind of bark your dog is making. First, what does your dog's demeanor convey, and how does the bark sound?

Play Bark Example

Dogs who are barking during playtime will often let out a high-pitched, frequent, and short bark.

"Don't Leave Me!" Demand Bark Example

Separation anxiety barking is often high-pitched but varies in the exact pitch and may be spaced at different times. 

Fearful Bark Example

If your dog is barking and their tail is tucked or their brow is wrinkled, they may be barking out of fear. (Example at 2:25 in video below.)

Aggressive or Territorial Bark Example

A dog barking out of aggression may show their teeth more or take on a more defensive stance, and the bark itself may sound more guttural and deep. When dogs are feeling territorial, their bark is usually deep and loud, with time in between each one.

It's important to note that territorial behavior is categorized under aggression, but that doesn't mean a dog is generally aggressive. They can be the friendliest dog in the world when they're with you, but then show territorial aggression when they feel someone or something is in their area.

As you can see in the video below, the dogs are really upset when the gate is closed. They are showing territorial aggression here based on the boundary they see. Most dogs who do this are known as 'watch dogs', which means they will bark continuously if they feel someone is in their space to alarm others. Once the gate opens, there is no longer a boundary separating the dogs, and they now know they can be in the same space.

Need to Know

This is also known as barrier aggression and is commonly found in shelter dogs.

Alert Barking Example

When your dog is alert barking, they're trying to say, "hey, come see this!" This type of barking is often triggered by the presence of someone unfamiliar nearby, or an unusual sound–something out of the ordinary for them, or even a noise they recognize but still find noteworthy. Along with the barking, you'll likely observe distinct changes in their body language. They might adopt a more upright posture, their ears may perk up, and their tail could be held higher, all indicating heightened attention and alertness.

"Come On!" Barks

Some dogs bark during playtime or as a way to communicate their excitement. Say you are holding their favorite toy, and they want you to give it a toss. The dog may bark to communicate what they want. This is usually accompanied by a wagging tail, open eyes, and, in many cases, a smile. 

Clue: Where Is Your Dog Looking While Barking?

When your dog barks, pay close attention to their eyes and where they are looking. Are they focused on you or something else? Trying to see the world through the eyes of your dog can help you understand why they are barking. If you have an outdoor dog that tends to bark most of the night, take a trip outdoors, preferably unnoticed by your canine friend, and try to find what the dog is looking at when they're barking.

Some Breeds Bark Differently

Dogs of different breeds often bark at different times, and each breed may have an array of different sounds. Some breeds, like the German shepherd or Alaskan malamute, are documented as having as many as 12 different vocal variations of barking. However, other breeds may not be as vocal or communicative, such as the great dane or Newfoundland. Learning more about the breed of your dog and their breed history may give you insight into why they bark at certain times.

Yelping

The yelping sound is one that is much easier to understand for most pet owners because it is most often associated with a dog who is in pain. You may experience a yelping dog if they get smacked by your cat's claws or, inadvertently, have their foot stepped on, for example. This will be a high-pitched, low-volume type of sound in most cases. 

Yelping is commonly followed by or heard at the same time as whimpering, which can also send the message that a dog is in pain. During my experience as a canine behaviorist, I have also noticed that some dogs whimper when they're super excited, like when you get back from running to the store or returning from work. My dog is one of the dogs who whimpers with excitement. He will actually whine, howl, and bark in no particular pattern with his tail wagging and huge smile on his face.

Whining or Whimpering

Even though whimpering and whining are sometimes associated with a dog who has been injured or is in pain, these communicating sounds can have other meanings as well. Whimpers and whines are usually made through the dog's nasal cavity, which means the sound is more high-pitched in tone. Dogs naturally hear higher-pitched tones better than humans, and therefore, this would be an effective communication tool in the wild when a dog is under stress.

The dog may whimper or whine when they want to be let out or are simply trying to get your attention. Puppies who have not yet developed their bark will whine and whimper often as a way to communicate their stress and wants to their mother, or if the mother is not around, to their human owners. Whimpering and whining can also sometimes take on the sound of "squeaking," depending on the breed of dog. It may also be described as "crying" by dog owners.

Baying

Baying is sometimes misconstrued as barking and possibly even howling. However, baying is actually a different form of communication altogether than the average bark. This prolonged bark, often deep and throaty, is associated with a dog who is in pursuit of prey.

Scent hounds, like beagles, are well-known for baying when they are on the trail of what they are hunting. This is a desirable trait in dogs who are primarily used for hunting purposes, as it helps to alert the hunter that the dog has found the scent of what they are hunting, like rabbits or squirrels. 

Need to Know

Some dogs may bay when they perceive a threat, like an intruder in your home or another dog in their territory.

Growling

Growling is an interesting sound that can be perceived in one of two ways.

Growling as a Warning

Growling usually happens when dogs are being aggressive. If your dog is growling or you come across a dog who is growling at you, it is best to heed their warning and not persist with whatever is making them stressed. It usually comes before a dog will attack if they feel threatened enough. This form of aggressive growling is typically accompanied by physical indicators that your dog is upset, including an erect tail or hair standing stiffly along their back and neck.

Quick Tip

Never reprimand a growling dog. If you scold your dog for growling, they may not give a warning before they bite. 

Growling During Play

Your dog may also growl when they're playing, and this is normal behavior, especially in terriers. If you're playing a friendly game of tug-of-war, for example, your dog may playfully growl at you. However, you can usually tell this type of growling apart from the other kind by watching your dog's body language. Plus, the playful growl is often much different in sound than the other, where they're trying to sound intimidating.

Need to Know

Playtime growling is sometimes referred to as the dog's version of purring. 

Howling

Howling, the most recognizable sound our dogs make, is a deeply ingrained behavior in dogs. It was originally used for dogs in the pack to communicate with one another, generally to tell the rest of the pack where they were or to draw attention. Now, it's often known to be a sign of separation anxiety. But there are some dogs that enjoy howling and may use the firetruck sirens on TV as an opportunity to sing. 

Need to Know

Howling is a drawn-out noise that varies in pitch, often depending on the breed (hound dogs often have a deeper howl than others).

Honking

If your dog is making a honking sound, this is actually a "reverse sneeze." According to Sykesville Veterinary Clinic, "During a reverse sneeze episode, your dog might tense up. His eyes may bulge a bit. And he might extend his neck. The episode shouldn’t last more than a few seconds. It might last a couple of minutes at the most." They explained that the sound is made when your dog isn't getting enough air. It's usually nothing to worry about, but if you do get concerned or it doesn't stop, contact your vet. 

Heaving

If you notice your dog dry-heaving, this means they're attempting to throw something up from their stomach. They could have eaten something that caused their stomach to be upset, or they may be suffering from a very serious condition called bloat.  You may also hear this referred to as retching. 

Quick Tip

Contact your veterinarian immediately, as bloat can quickly become fatal if not treated quickly.

Coughing

A dog that is gagging or coughing may be ill with one of a number of conditions, including kennel cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, or even congestive heart failure. Speak to your veterinarian about your dog's symptoms and follow their advice.

Dog Laughing

Your dog's laughter isn't the same as ours. Instead, it's a soft, breathy noise often described as a “hhah” sound. They'll have an open mouth with their tongue hanging out, along with relaxed body language. You may hear this when your dog is playing with you, another dog, or another pet in general. 

Dog Moaning

Happy dogs may make a moaning sound. If this is accompanied by relaxed body language and closed or semi-closed eyes, then you have a dog that's enjoying life. You may notice your dog moaning as you're rubbing their belly or scratching their ears, or doing another enjoyable activity.

Dog Snoring

Some dogs will have a cute, light snore while they're sleeping. Others will sound a bit louder. My newfie, for example, was incredibly loud when she slept. The first time I heard her snore, it actually startled me. My English springer spaniel, on the other hand, has an adorable little quiet snore. 

Sighing

Your dog's sigh sounds a lot like your own. And, like our sighs, your pup's could mean they're disappointed, they just finished a hard task (or at least one they thought was hard), or that they're super satisfied. 

Communicating With Your Canine

When it comes down to it, your dog has a collection of methods they use to communicate with you. Every dog is different in the number of sounds they make, but you'll get to know each of them as you spend more quality time together. There's a language barrier between us and our furry best friends, but with a bit of effort and a little time, we can understand what we're saying to one another and communicate.

Trending on LoveToKnow
Decoding Dog Sounds: 18 Examples With Meanings