As a dog, I know a lot about barking and what we dogs are communicating when we bark.
You see, there are many different kinds of barks. We have special barks which
communicate our different moods such as loneliness, surprise, or irritation. Barks can be
described by three dimensions: pitch, duration, and frequency. That sounds technical but it
is really pretty simple.
“Pitch” refers to whether the bark sounds low (like a growl) or high (like a yip) or
somewhere in between. Low pitched barks indicate I feel threatened or angry and if the
threat worsens I may shift into an aggressive mode. This type of bark means, “Stay away
from me!” High pitched barks signal “it is safe to approach” or “I am happy and excited to
see you”. It can even sound more like a whimper than a bark.
“Duration” has to do with the length of the bark(s). The longer the sounds continue means
that I do not intend to back down from whatever is threatening me. An example might be
when I bark fiercely when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. This fierce bark means I am
protecting my territory in response to that sound. Shorter bursts of barks indicate that I am
not sure I can deal with a pending threat or attack. I might respond this way to a siren or a
loud boom near my home.
“Frequency” refers to whether the barks are repeated and are fast or spaced out and
slower. Territorial barking or barking out of fear is fast and repetitious signaling
excitement, urgency, or crisis. Many dogs exhibit this type of barking in response to UPS
trucks or mail delivery vehicles. We are repeatedly rewarded for this barking because the
delivery vehicle always leaves the neighborhood. Alarm barking is spaced out and slower
showing a lower level of excitement and I am saying, “Come check this out!” Sometimes I
might make a yip or two which is showing less excitement and is communicating interest in
something, perhaps a bird or squirrel in the yard. A dog who produces a long string of
solitary barks with pauses in-between is communicating loneliness or need of
companionship. I don’t do this because I have a wonderful, loving family who shower me
with affection and interesting things to do.
Having said that, dog parents sometimes ask how they can help their dog reduce their
barking. This will be a topic of a future blog.
To find out more about barking and what dogs are saying, read these two articles: