The meaning of dog sounds: we can help you find out what they tell you

László Enikő

2023. May 21 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The owners usually know their dogs very well. You can tell just by looking at them if they've done something wrong or if they just want a bit of attention. But are their vocal signals that clear?


A Hungarian research published in 2014 with the collaboration of Tamás Faragó, a research fellow at the Department of Ethology at ELTE, an MTA Premium Postdoctoral Fellow and the leader of the study, shows that humans communicate according to similar acoustic rules as dogs. As a result, we can recognise the emotional states of four-legged creatures in a similar way to our human counterparts, without a common language. This is because both humans and dogs operate with high-low and long-short sounds. The study involved 40 volunteers who listened to 100 dog sounds during the survey. In general, short, throbbing signals indicated positive emotion, while high and long signals indicated fear or pain, just as in human communication.

But would you know your dog’s emotions just by the sound of his voice? Most likely yes, but context is important. We can help you to be more specific.

Short, firm blind bark = attention-getting

If your dog wants you to pay attention to him, he’ll give you a short, firm bark. In this case he wants attention, play or food. If you find it annoying that he tells you when he wants attention, you can easily dissuade your pet by simply not responding, clearly ignoring the signal. He will stop after a while, but before he does, it’s worth making sure he’s not doing it because he has to go to the toilet. In that case, take it out as soon as possible.

Breathy sound = laughter

During play, they may make a panting sound, which is only used when they are panting. It’s like laughter for them. When you hear this, it’s clear your dog is having fun.

Loud bark = signal, protection

Most dogs will bark when someone walks past the fence or rings the bell. It’s a natural instinct, in his blood, to protect us. It does not indicate excessive dominance, so it should not be scolded, it is simply a sound to let you know that someone is approaching.

Growling = aggression

Growling, barking in a low tone means aggression, showing that you should not get involved. The expression of aggression can be caused by a number of things, such as self-defence, feeling self-conscious around other dogs, or perceiving the situation as a restricted, dangerous situation. It is also a signal when he thinks he has competition within the pack, but it can also be triggered by defending his favourite toy, food bowl or family members.

Sharp howl = loneliness, boredom

When your pet is lonely or bored, it may start a loud, shrill howl. If he does this disturbingly often, essentially wearing the trousers, it’s worth giving him a development toy to keep him occupied when you leave him alone. However, it’s important to observe whether he’s just bored, or whether there may be something more serious behind his feelings of loneliness, such as separation anxiety, which can be a symptom of howling, among other things.

Excited blind canting = happiness

One of the most beautiful dog sounds is an excited, happy, blind bark, as this is a clear sign of happiness. This is when your four-legged companion is happy and feeling good. It’s how many pets greet their owners when they finally come home after a long day.

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