Interpreting Dog Noises

Published: September 13, 2021
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Dogs are not capable of human speech, but they do attempt to communicate with human beings through the sounds that they make. If you know what the different sounds mean, you can get a better idea of what your pet is trying to communicate to you. However, correctly interpreting dog noises can be tricky because, much like human speech, certain sounds can have different meanings depending on the context.


Barking is your dog's primary means of communication, and probably the sound that can have the most different meanings. The pitch of the bark can tell you a lot about what he is trying to communicate. If it is low-pitched, he is sending out a threat or a warning, whereas high-pitched barking is more likely to indicate excitement.

If your dog makes other sounds while barking, such as snarling, it means he is angry, perhaps over a violation of his territory. Body language can also clue you into the meaning of your dog's bark. A tense body indicates anger or fear, while relaxation, tail wagging, and play bows mean that your dog is barking with happiness.


Dogs growl to send a warning, and if your dog growls while showing all her teeth, it is a clear indication that people and pets better stay away, or she intends to start biting. However, the meaning behind a growl may be more subtle. A solid growl in a dog that seems calm otherwise can simply indicate displeasure but not an intention to bite. Sometimes dogs make a low, rumbling growl in their throats in response to something they heard outside the house. In this case, your dog is not warning you that she intends to attack but that there is something outside that she thinks you should be concerned about. There are also play growls that do not indicate aggression.


Even among humans, sighs can mean different things, and interpreting them correctly depends heavily on the context. Like humans, dogs may sigh because they are feeling relaxed or because they are frustrated. If your dog gives a heavy sigh after being denied a toy or a treat, it probably means he is disappointed. On the other hand, if your dog sighs while cuddling up against you or basking in the sunshine, it is probably a sign of contentment.


Moaning from a dog can be unsettling for an owner because for humans, it is usually a sign of pain and distress. This is a situation in which communication between humans and dogs can break down because each species uses the same sound to mean totally different things. Dogs, especially puppies, moan when they are cuddled up beside their mother or their favorite person and means that they are at peace. It is less ambiguous a sound for dogs than sighing.

Howling or Baying

Howling is something that domestic dogs inherited from their wolf ancestors. However, some breeds howl more than others, and some never howl at all. Howling is a way to communicate over long distances. Wolves do it to communicate with their own packs as well as with other packs. Human understanding of the emotions that both wolves and dogs express through howling may be limited. The Siberian Husky is a dog breed that is particularly notorious for howling.

Hounds make a sound that is similar to howling called baying. Like howling, baying is intended for communication over long distances. Specifically, a baying hound is trying to alert her human that she has found something interesting. However, baying is different from howling in that it comprises short bursts and variations in tone, whereas a howl is just one long note, like a siren.


Whining can be a sign of distress in your dog. If the whining is accompanied by panting and other changes in his usual behavior, it could mean that he is in pain. In a stressful situation, dogs may whine to express fear or anxiety.

However, whining from your dog isn't always a sign of a serious problem. Often, your dog whines at you to let you know that she wants something. Maybe she wants food , or to strap on her leash and go for a walk. A whining dog will usually indicate with her eyes or body language what exactly she wants.


Dogs can catch colds and have allergies that make them sneeze. If the sneezing is accompanied by thick discharge from the nose in colors of green, white, or yellow, it indicates a health problem for which your dog should see a veterinarian. However, if there is no discharge, your dog's sneezes could mean something else. He could be trying to get your attention, or he may just be excited.


Short-faced breeds are susceptible to sinus congestion. Sometimes this causes them to snort and make choking noises for a prolonged period. This is called a reverse sneeze and is a sign that your dog should see the vet. However, isolated snorts may just be a way of trying to get your attention, just as other breeds may sneeze.

Soft Sleeping Noises

Dogs can enter a deep stage of sleep that is similar to REM sleep in humans. It is possible, though difficult to confirm, that dogs dream as humans do during this stage. While in this deep stage of sleep, dogs may make soft yaps, whimpers, or grumbles, often accompanied by muscle twitching and increased breathing rate. These signs are similar to a human talking in his or her sleep. They are normal and should not cause alarm.

Given how different dogs' communication methods can be from humans', the extent to which the two species can effectively communicate is remarkable.

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