Interpreting Dog Sounds and What They Mean

Dogs’ sounds are more than just barking. Our canine companions are capable of making a variety of noises. Each sound has a different meaning. Read on to learn how to interpret dog sounds better.


Posted by bravectosouthafrica – 05 November 2020

Understanding Your Four-Legged Friend Better

Have you ever found yourself thinking ‘What on earth is my dog trying to tell me?’ Rest assured – you’re not alone when it comes to wondering about the sounds dogs make. Sometimes it can feel as though you need to be a psychic to understand all the different dog sounds and the meanings behind them. It’s not uncommon for dog owners to ponder some of the following questions:

  • ‘What is that bark supposed to mean?’
  • ‘Is this growl a sign that my dog is angry or scared?’
  • ‘What are they trying to tell me with their whimpering sounds?’

Even the most seasoned dog owner can feel overwhelmed and confused when it comes to deciphering ‘dog talk.’ This is because it also usually varies from one dog to another. Understanding dog communication to the full usually involves some canine body language as well. However, there are some general rules you need to keep in mind when you’re trying to interpret dog sounds.

Different Barks – Different Meanings

There’s no debate that our dogs are trying to tell us something when they bark. A dog barking sound can have plenty of different meanings, depending on factors such as the bark’s tone and situation it occurs in.

Please do keep in mind that all dogs are unique. A dog bark can mean different things when made by different dogs.

Another important thing to listen out for is an increase in the volume or pitch of barking. The level of emotion your dog is feeling will influence the volume and pitch of their bark. This is why it’s worth listening closely to your dog’s bark to try and better understand what they’re trying to tell you.

Some of the things your dog may be trying to tell you include, but aren’t limited to, the following:


There are some dogs out there that will start barking at anything – be it object or noise – that surprises or scares them. It can happen anywhere and at any time. It doesn’t have to be in their territory.

Attention Seeking

Dogs are known to make barking noises to get your attention and show you they want something like to go outside, play or even get a yummy treat.


Since they’re pack animals, dogs don’t enjoy spending too much time by themselves. Dogs that are left alone for long periods may grow sad or bored and can start barking to show their unhappiness about the situation.


A dog will often begin barking as a way of greeting another animal or person. Because, in this instance, they’re happy, their barks tend to be more high-pitched. It’s not unusual for this kind of barking to be accompanied by tail wagging or even jumping.

Separation Anxiety/Compulsive Barking

If you know your dog is prone to start barking in excess the moment they’re left alone, they may suffer from separation anxiety. This type of barking is often accompanied by other symptoms, like:

  • Depression
  • Destructiveness
  • Inappropriate bathroom behaviour
  • Pacing
  • Repetitive movements like running up and down a fence line or in circles

It may seem as though dogs suffering from separation anxiety or that are compulsive barkers simply bark to fill the silence and hear their own voices. If you think this sounds like your dog, please take note that it isn’t considered to be a healthy kind of barking behaviour. It’s recommended that you make an appointment with your dog trainer or vet to try and reduce this kind of barking.


Should an unfamiliar animal or person enter the area your dog considers to be their territory, it can often lead to a bout of excessive barking. As the perceived trespasser moves closer, your dog’s barking will likely grow louder and more urgent. A dog barking due to territoriality or protectiveness will likely look alert and may even seem aggressive.

If you’re curious how you can teach your dog to stop barking at anything and everything, be sure to read our How to Stop Dogs from Barking at Every Little Thing article. It includes plenty of helpful tips and tricks to help reduce your best friend’s frequent need to bark.

The Different Meanings Behind a Dog’s Growl

Most people have come to associate dog growling sounds with anger and aggression. That it’s the dog’s way of communicating that you need to keep your distance and if you don’t, you have a high chance of getting bitten. Sometimes, this may indeed be the case, but not always. There’s a host of other possible reasons your beloved pooch may be gnarling. Listen closely and you’ll quickly learn that not all growling dog noises are the same.

Some of the reasons and motivations behind dog growling can include, but aren’t limited to, the following:

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Encouraging play
  • Fatigue
  • Fear

This is why it’s so important to understand the kind of growling noise your dog is making and the context within which it’s happening. Being in tune with your dog will help you to recognise their tone and help you to decipher what they’re trying to tell you. As with other types of canine communication, it’s all about the context.

What About Whimpering?

Another dog sound with multiple meanings behind it is whimpering. For some dogs, whimpering is a way of communicating that they want something, while others whimper out of excitement. Dogs also whimper to show they’re frustrated with a situation, like when a toy gets trapped underneath or behind a piece of furniture or when they want to go outside. Anxiety can also lead to whimpering. For instance, a dog suffering from anxiety caused by riding in a car may start to whimper as soon as they’re put in a car.

Sometimes whimpering may also be a sign that your dog has an underlying health issue. Keep an eye open for other signs and symptoms that accompany whimpering, like:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Lethargy
  • Limping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

Should your dog be whimpering and displaying any of the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, seek veterinary help immediately. This is also true if your dog is whimpering out of character or making any sounds that are unfamiliar, with no apparent cause for it. It may very well be your dog’s way of telling you that something isn’t right. Remember, if you ever feel like something is ‘off’ about your dog and their ‘normal’ behaviour, don’t hesitate to visit your trusted vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

For further reading, take a look at Insider’s 10 sounds your dog makes and what they mean, especially the sections on coughing and sneezing. These dog sounds may also be signs of health issues.

Letting Out All of the Ancient Howls

Wolves, your dog’s ancient ancestors, will howl out into the night to identify their territory and make contact with members of their pack. As wolf descendants, our modern-day dogs have evolved to rarely howl or some can’t even howl anymore at all.

There are, however, still certain dogs that rely on howling as a means of communication. The dogs that still howl tend to be the ones that are left alone often, for long periods at a time. Howling is their way of trying to reach out to or get in contact with anyone who can hear them.

Another thing that may make your dog howl is high-pitched noises like those made by other dogs howling, musical instruments or sirens from emergency vehicles.

Why not play your pooch Jaw-Dropping Fact’s 8 Sounds Your Dog Loves YouTube video and see their precious reactions? Who knows – maybe they’ll even let out a howl!

Now, do you see? Keen observation skills are all you need to get a better understanding of what your canine companion is trying to communicate. Pay close attention to the tone of their growl, the pitch of their bark and what their body language is like during these vocalisations. Context is, once again, also extremely important. All of these elements combined should give you a good idea of what your dog is trying to tell you.

Keep in mind that our wet-nosed friends have spent many centuries trying to understand us, just to please us. Trying to understand them better is the least we can do to try and return the favour.

Always Listen to Your Furry Friend’s Requests

Don’t make your dog beg for long-term tick, flea and mite relief. Treat them to a Bravecto® for Dogs treatment before pesky parasites become a problem. Bravecto® offers you the choice between two convenient and effective external parasite treatments: Bravecto® Chew and Bravecto® Spot-On for Dogs.

Feed your dog a single chewy treat and you’ll provide them with 12 weeks of uninterrupted flea, tick and mite protection. Alternatively, opt for the topical treatment, where one dose will keep your dog safe from ticks for 4 months and fleas for 6 whole months! That means Bravecto® provides 3x longer coverage than traditional monthly treatments.

If you are worried you’ll forget to redose your pal for back to back protection, don’t be! Simply download the handy reminder app to your mobile device, create a profile for your dog, select the product you treated them with and then set the last known date you gave them Bravecto®. You will now receive a notification the next time your pup is due for their next dose. It’s that easy!

We hope you learned something new about understanding your dog better. For more informative articles that will help you strengthen the bond between you and your furry friends, be sure to check out Bravecto®’s blog article section and MSD Animal Health’s We Are Family website.

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