What is Your Dog Trying to Say?


Dogs can be so good at expressing themselves – a paw resting on your arm or knee means “pet me,” a head cocked to one side means “I am trying to understand what you’re saying,” and of course a wagging tail means “I’m so happy you’re home!” Most dog owners wonder what their dogs would say if they could talk, but are secretly relieved that they can’t. Many, though, would like to have a better understanding of what their dog is trying to say with his seemingly endless repertoire of barks, howls, whines, growls and whimpers. Obviously, he has quite a bit to say, but how do you translate?

Here’s a quick rundown on what your dog’s vocal sounds mean.


Dogs bark for all sorts of reasons. Often, it is to alert you to a potential threat. They may also bark out of fear, distress, boredom, or a desire to play. When a dog is distressed or anxious, the bark will be high in pitch, and repetitive. Barking out of boredom is usually constant and monotonous. An alert bark will be sharp and intense. A bark indicating a desire to play usually contains two syllables, with the accent on the second – “Arr-RUFF!”

Your dog can tell you a lot with a bark. Of course sometimes, repetitive barking can be annoying not just to you, but to your neighbors, so later, I’m going to offer a suggestion as to what you can do about nuisance barking. For now, though, let’s continue to talk about those interesting sounds your dog makes.

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A growl is usually a warning that the dog is annoyed, and that if whoever is perpetuating the behavior that is annoying the dog continues to do so, a bite could result. Don’t become annoyed with your dog if he growls – he has no other way to tell you that you’re bothering him. Instead, try to find out what’s bothering him, and see if there is anything you can do to make him more comfortable.

A dog will also growl while playing. For instance, if you are playing tug-of-war with him, he will probably growl. This is “play aggression,” and it’s fine.

Dogs will also sometimes growl out of happiness. Rottweilers, for instance, are known to growl softly when being petted – it means “That feels good; do it some more.” You could think of it as doggie purring, I suppose!


Howling can be a means of pack members communicating with one another. This is why it is so easy to teach your dog to howl by doing it yourself – he sees you as a member of his pack, and you are talking to one another in his language! Dogs may also howl if they are very upset – for instance if they are left alone, and they suffer from separation anxiety.

Yelping or Whimpering

Yelping and whimpering can be indications that a dog is experiencing sudden, fleeting pain. If you have dogs that play together, for instance, you may hear a yelp if one nips the other a bit too hard. The dog is telling his playmate that he has been hurt and would appreciate it if they could play a little less vigorously. Persistent whimpering can indicate pain that that is more severe, and less transient. Dogs will, of course, also whimper when they are excited – for instance when their person comes home. Whimpering is usually soft, and not overly intense.


Whining is similar to whimpering, but considerably higher in pitch. Dogs might whine when they need to go out, want something, feel frustrated, or have been separated from a person or another animal that they want to be with. Whimpering is usually an indication that the dog is stressed.

Actual Words

Probably most of us have, at one point or another in our lives, met a “talking” dog, or at least seen one on television or in a YouTube video. Some dogs actually can seem to be speaking, saying words like “Mama,” or even entire phrases. “I love you,” for instance, is one of the phrases most commonly taught to dogs. Do they really know what they’re saying, though?

Experts claim that the average dog has a vocabulary of 200-300 words, meaning words that they actually understand the meaning of. If you have done any training at all with your dog, you have certain words in common, like “sit,” “stay,” “come” and so on. So, who knows? If you are always telling your dog, “I love you,” and reinforcing it with touches and snuggles, maybe he does know what the phrase means. The proof, though, I think, would be if he says it without being prompted.

Excessive Barking

Some dogs, of course, can bark entirely too much. This is can be extremely irritating, and could even get you evicted. Many dogs will respond to conventional training methods, like a light snap on the leash and a firm “Quiet!” when barking is out of control, and perhaps a reward when he responds to “Quiet.” Others, though, can be very difficult to train. If your dog is barking during the wee hours, you can bet that your neighbors are not going to be impressed, and you may need to take drastic measures.

One way of correcting problem barking quickly is with the use of a bark collar. Bark collars deliver a gentle, safe correction to a barking dog by means of a warning sound and light shock. One such collar is the Vastar New Model Bark Collar for dogs. It fits dogs from 15-120 pounds, and has seven different levels of correction, with the intensity gradually increasing until the dog stops barking for a full 30 seconds. If the stimulus reaches the seventh level, then the collar will automatically shut down for 60 seconds so that the dog does not become overwhelmed. This high-quality bark collar regularly retails for $48.99, but is available now at Amazon for just $18.99, and it also qualifies for Prime shipping.


Dogs communicate very effectively, with body language and also a variety of vocalizations. Sometimes, though, they “communicate” to the point where you really need them to be quiet. Most dogs can be trained to stop barking, but difficult cases may require the use of a bark collar.

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9 Things Your Dog Wants You to Know
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18 Bible Verses About Dogs