What Your Dog's Bark Really Means

Dogs communicate with their humans in a variety of ways from body language to barks, growls, yips, and whines. You have probably noticed by now that your dog has a number of different barks and they occur in a variety of settings. Sometimes it might be obvious why your dog is barking, such as from excitement during play, but other times it may be unclear why your pup feels the need to bark. Here, we explore some of the reasons dogs bark as well as the type of bark a dog might use to express certain feelings.  

Picture of a german shepherd dog

What Are Dogs Trying to Communicate?

Just as humans do, dogs use their voices to communicate a number of emotions and feelings such as fear, sadness, surprise, anger, joy, anxiety, pain, and many more. Usually, the frequency, duration, and pitch of a dog’s bark, whine, or yip will convey what they are trying to communicate. 

Here are some of the signals to pay attention to when your dog is barking so you can better understand what they are communicating to you.


Barks or yips repeated often and at a quick pace usually indicate excitement or urgency from your pup. Fast bursts of barking let you know your dog is trying to get your attention because there is something exciting or important going on that they want you to see. A common type of bark you might hear from your dog is a rapid string of two to four barks with little pauses in between. This is a typical alarm bark to let you know something deserves your attention. 

Another type of bark is the warning bark. This one usually comes in a continuous string and in a lower pitch. This slower, deep bark suggests a serious problem and serves as a warning for you to be alert. 


A long, sustained growl or drawn out bark can indicate more intention and dominance. Your dog may feel challenged and be refusing to back down. Shorter bark bursts held briefly are usually a sign of fear and uncertainty. One quick yip also usually means your dog has been surprised by something. 


The pitch of your dog’s bark can convey a lot of information. Low-pitched sounds are often associated with threats and anger and in some cases, aggression. A low bark or growl typically means your dog wants you or someone else to stay away. High-pitched barks, on the other hand, can indicate pain, fear, or uncertainty. If you hear your pup making an unusually high-pitched bark, you should quickly check to make sure everything is okay. 

Pitch also comes into play in other scenarios as well. Animals have an instinct that big things make deep, low sounds. That’s why when they are trying to be intimidating or tell you not to approach, they will growl deeply or release a low woof in warning. Higher pitched noises like whines and excited yips are meant to sound less threatening and encourage you to come closer. 

Can a Dog’s Bark Signal Physical Discomfort?

As previously stated, if you hear your dog letting out urgent, high-pitched barks it could be a sign that your dog is hurt and you should check to ensure everything is alright. However, this is not the only scenario where barking signals physical discomfort. Random barking, whines, or whimpers that go on for a prolonged period of time can be warning signs that your pup is in pain or not feeling well. 

For the most part, your pup’s behavior should be pretty consistent. If your dog normally barks in excitement when guests arrive, but all of a sudden doesn’t even get up to greet people at the door, this can be a sign that your dog is not feeling well.  Barking less can be a sign that your pup isn’t feeling well and doesn’t have the energy to bark.  If this is the case, be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and monitor whether they begin to feel better after some time has passed.

On the flip side, barking more frequently can also be an indicator of discomfort. If your dog is normally happy to be brushed or pet by people but suddenly starts growling and barks in anger or whimpers when you come near them, it is likely an indication your dog is in pain or some sort of discomfort. 

The Bottom Line:

Familiarizing yourself with your dog’s standard, everyday bark will help you recognize any abrupt changes in your pup’s behavior. Recognizing different pitches and the meanings of a bark is also really helpful for knowing what to expect from your dog. Communication between you and your dog is important for building trust, so if you can better understand what your pup is trying to communicate to you, you and your pup will have a better relationship.  

So, try not to get upset when your dog is barking a lot.  Rather, pay attention to your dog’s bark so you can pick up on what they are trying to say to you.

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