What Is Your Dog Trying to Tell You? 6 Dog Sounds and What They Mean

Here's a translation guide to your dog's sounds.

A dog smiling into the camera with their tongue out
From fear to frustration, dogs bark for lots of reasons.

Sundays Photography / Shutterstock

Dogs make a lot of sounds. From howling and growling to whining and crying, a lot of different noises come out of those slobbery mouths.

Some dogs tend to be more talkative than others. VetStreet compiled a list of the chattiest dog breeds in a survey of more than 250 veterinary professionals. They found that beagles, Siberian huskies, Schnauzers, Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers tend to have the most to say. Other talkative breeds include Jack Russell terriers, basset hounds, German shepherds, dachshunds and, well, pretty much all terriers.

Some breeds also tend to have certain distinctive sounds, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). Rottweilers "purr," Siberian Huskies "talk," Shiba Inus "scream" and Basenjis "yodel" instead of barking, the organization says.

But in general, there are a handful of sounds most dogs make to communicate with other dogs and with people. This is how they vocalize their needs, frustrations, fears, and pleasures.


Little playful Jack Russell Terrier dog playing in garden in morning
primeimages / Getty Images

Why do dogs bark? The answer obviously depends on the circumstances. Your dog could be alerting you to danger or just showing you how happy he is that you're home. A bark can indicate joy or fear, anger or awareness, frustration or need, according to the AKC. The key to understanding the bark is context and, of course, knowing your dog.

Barks sound different depending on their purpose and what triggers them.

A dog that is upset because of separation anxiety, for example, might have a high-pitched, repetitive bark that gets higher as the dog gets more anxious and upset, says Whole Dog Journal. Boredom barking, on the other hand, is more monotone and repetitive. An alert bark is usually sharp and staccato, while an alarm bark is similar with more intensity.

When your dog wants something from you, her barks are sharp and continuous. Suspicious barking is typically slow and low. Fearful barking is also low, but it's usually faster. And as Whole Dog Journal points out, playful barking just sounds playful.


Brown Chihuahua snarling with teeth showing
Michelle Kelley Photography / Getty Images

Often, growling is a warning sign. It's telling another dog or a person to back off, that if you don't stop touching the dog's food, toys, body, or get out of his space, then he might become aggressive. It's good practice to take a growl seriously and make your dog comfortable. And remember, never punish a dog for growling. If you do, you're punishing him for giving a warning. The next time he won't warn you first.

However, if the growl is more of a low grumble and you happen to be playing tug of war at the time, then it's a play growl and things are fine. In one study, researchers found that aggressive growls tend to be longer than play growls, which have shorter pauses between the grrrrs.


Dog Howling. Color Image
claudio.arnese / Getty Images

Not all dogs howl, but if your dog does, you know it's very distinctive. Often triggered by high-pitched noises, howling seems to be contagious among dogs. When an ambulance races through an area, listen to the sounds of the neighborhood dogs.

Some researchers believe howling is a way that dogs communicate among pack members. The dogs that howl when they are left alone may be trying to talk to their owners who left them behind, the AKC says.


Dogs often whine when they want something. Your dog might whine when she needs to go outside, wants a treat, wants to go for a walk, or just wants your attention.

But whining can also be a sign of fear or anxiety, points out the AKC. A dog that's afraid of going to the vet may whine when you get there. A dog with separation anxiety may whine when he's left alone.

Yelping and whimpering

When your dog cries, whimpers or yelps, it's typically a sign that he's in pain. A dog might yelp when playing if another dog bites too hard. These sounds are how dogs communicate distress to the rest of the pack or to their humans, says Whole Dog Journal. Whimpering is not as intense as whining.

A dog might also whimper as a sign of strong excitement, for example when their person returns after a long absence. They'll usually whimper while jumping, barking, licking and wagging their tail.

Sighing and groaning

Sad dog, sad dog face, Bernese Mountain Dog, Sadness, Depression
Jena Ardell / Getty Images

When your dog plops down and lets our a hearty groan or a deep sign, is he showing extreme contentment or severe disappointment? It could be either or both. Dogs sigh for a number of reasons. If you've just had a great walk or a fun romp in the yard, a sigh is likely a sign of happy satisfaction. However, if your pup has brought you the ball five times and you won't throw it, the sigh is likely one of bummed-out frustration.

Puppies make all sorts of dramatic groaning noises when they are settling down to nap, while older dogs may sign as they relax for their own naps. Those are good noises that make you maybe want to settle down and snuggle up with them too.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.