It can be hard to know what your dog is trying to communicate when she is barking. Does she need to go out? Is she hungry? Does she just want your attention?
It’s too bad that a speaking dog doesn’t communicate in a way that humans can understand. But with knowledge of the different types of dog barks, owners can better understand what their dog is trying to convey, and ultimately strengthen the bond they share with their pet.
Five Types of Dog Barks
“When a dog barks, that bark has a purpose,” says Irith Bloom, Certified Professional Trainer and Director of Training at TheSophisticatedDog.com. According to Bloom, there are five common types of dog barks:
- Alert Barking: Alerting those around the dog to something,“Hey! Check out what’s happening!”
- Demand Barking: Getting something the dogs wants, “Hey! Gimme that!”
- Fearful or Aggressive Barking: Driving something away, “Hey! Get away from me!”
- Playful Barking: Inviting something closer or instigating play, “Hey! It’s great to see you! Let’s do something fun together!”
- Anxious Barking: Expressing a strong emotion, “Hey! You’ve forgotten me! Please come back!
Owners should note that these barks aren’t mutually exclusive. “Some types of barks overlap at times,” says Bloom.
Reading Dog Body Language
How can owners learn to tell the different barks apart? Bloom suggests you start by noting what exactly sets off the barking and what makes it stop, as well as paying attention to the sounds of each bark and any dog body language that accompanies it. “You will notice that barks that serve different purposes usually sound different from each other,” she says. “They also look different in terms of the body language that accompanies them.”
To decode dog language, look for these bark types along with the dog behavior and body language that will likely come with each type.
This is most easily identified by watching for the trigger and resolution. For example, if you hear the sound of a dog walking outside just as your dog starts barking, it’s probably alert barking, says Bloom. This will likely stop once the sound of the dog passes.
“If your dog starts barking while you are getting his dinner ready, and stops when you put the bowl down in front of him, that is probably demand barking,” notes Bloom. A dog who’s demanding something will usually look right at you, but their bodies will still be relaxed. They won’t show the whites of their eyes or appear to be cringing, says Bloom.
Fearful or Aggressive Barking
The categories of fear and aggression often overlap, notes Bloom. This type of dog barking is usually at a lower pitch and comes with a stiff body and a direct stare. “If your dog barks when strangers come into the house, and he’s either backing away or lunging towards the person repeatedly, that is probably in the aggressive/fearful barking range,” says Bloom. Also check if your dog is leaning his body forward, holding his tails and ears high, staring intently, or keeping his hair standing up. If your dog is very afraid, says Bloom, you may see his tail curl under or his spine arch, and he may almost appear to be cringing. He might also lick his lips repeatedly, or look away from you in between barking, and you may see a little of the whites of his eyes.
To identify a playful bark, listen for a higher pitch and look for wriggly, loose body language, says Bloom. She notes that this barking type is often set off when a well-loved human comes to the house, and may stop when that person interacts with the dog or when the dog gets over his initial excitement.
“Dogs who are anxious (especially those with separation anxiety) will tend to bark in short bursts at a relatively high pitch, and may also howl,” notes Bloom. If your dog starts barking as soon as you leave the house and either continues all day or starts and stops repeatedly over several hours, but then stops when you get back home, this is likely due to anxiety. Talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to calm your dog’s anxiety.
Note that every pet may not show all of this dog body language with every type of bark. For instance, “an individual dog may be very stiff while demand barking because he’s learned that gets him what he wants,” says Bloom. “Another may use a rapid, high-pitched bark and wiggly body language to get things, since that has worked in the past.”
Ultimately, the best way to decode your dog’s bark is to note what causes him to stop, says Bloom. What’s reinforcing the dog behavior? The function is often more important than the specific dog body language and barking sounds.