Skip to main content

Why do dogs bark? An expert guide to every yip, howl, and arf

Find out what this kind of communication means

Two Chihuahuas, one barking. stand in front of a beige background
Shane N. Cotee / Shutterstock

Most of us hear dogs barking frequently, some even every day or multiple times. You might look forward to the sound of your pooch greeting you with a happy bark at the door or dread an angry snarl from the neighbor’s poorly behaved beastie, but there’s a lot more to barking than meets the ear.

This complex form of communication actually can have many different meanings both on its own and coupled with other indicators, like body language. While your dog barking at nothing might annoy you when it happens at 3 a.m., you’ll be far better prepared to handle it if you understand what’s behind the noise.

A dog barks in front of a yellow background
Robert Gramner / Unsplash

Why do dogs bark?

The real question should be, why do humans talk? A dog bark, though not exactly the same as our speech, works essentially the same way. Your pup might bark to communicate happiness, fear, aggression, hunger, or boredom. Of course, they also use barking as a tool in of itself — to alert.

Dogs that are service animals or otherwise trained might bark when they smell, see, or hear something in particular, but almost all puppers will let out an arf now and then. Essentially, woofs have at least some meaning and you should pay attention now and then to make sure you know what’s going on with your canine.

Two dogs look at each other and play bark
Caleb Woods / Unsplash

What do different barks mean?

When you’re diving into interpreting dog barks, you have to use all the available information about the yips. Listen closely to pitch, duration, frequency, volume, and timbre. For example, a low growl with intermittent deep barks almost certainly acts as a warning. You might hear this when a new mail person approaches your house and Fido decides that it’s unacceptable. On the complete opposite side, a very short, high-pitched yap that could signal a desire to play or eat a favorite snack.

Distinguishing between a play bark and an aggressive one seems pretty easy. Some vocalizations will take more time and effort to understand. Not to mention, every animal is different, which means even two dogs from the same litter will have slightly different communication styles. Your job as a pet owner is to study your own four-legged friend and start to memorize each of their different barks, whines, and growls.

David Besh / Pexels

How do you train a dog to stop barking?

Here’s the truth: You probably don’t want to train your dog to stop barking entirely. It’s just not feasible or beneficial for anyone. In the wild, wolves mainly use barking as an alert (they use other sounds for other things), and so your guard dog will likely have some of those tendencies. Some, like Goldens, won’t even bother to scare away even a terrifying intruder, but many pooches love to use their personalities to protect their humans.

While training is important, you almost certainly don’t want to get rid of all of their defensive instincts. However, all dog behavior has a place, and your pet likely will be happier if you work out when barking is OK and when they should keep quiet. Here’s how to get Fido to cool it on the barking.

Ignore it

The worst thing you can do is reward their behavior when you want it to stop. That means not giving it too much attention and never praising your pup by accident for the wrong kind of bark. Luckily, you can still give a quick “no” and then redirect or tune them out. If your buddy woofs for food at dinner time, be sure not to give them dinner right away. The “quiet” command will help here, too.

Teach them “quiet”

Funnily enough, the quiet command often goes hand in hand with “speak,” as that can help your animal to understand that you’re connecting the sounds coming out of their mouth to your words. If your beastie barks in any particular situation (such as when someone knocks on the door), it will be necessary to practice your “quiet” even under those circumstances. Wait until they have some idea of what you’re looking for, and then go through it a few times.

Get them used to their world

You know that the creak in the floorboards and the warble of the water heater don’t mean that enemies are attacking the homestead, but your dog doesn’t. Any time you bring your pet to a new place, they will need a bit to get used to the new environment. Help this along by introducing your pup to different stimuli like the dog park, hotels if you travel often, other people’s homes, and outdoor dining.

Dog barking can be funny, cute, or annoying, but no matter the circumstances, the best way to handle it is to figure out the root cause. Once you understand your animal’s different woofs, you’ll be able to work out a few ways to stop them from arfing all the time.

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Every pet owner should have this list of toxic foods that are harmful to dogs
Memorize this list of toxic foods for dogs
A black and white dog licks pink ice cream from a cone.

You share a lot with your dog — playtime bonding sessions at the park, cuddle time on the sofa, and so much more — so it's only natural to want to share a snack or two. Before you do, however, it's essential that you do your research on toxic food for dogs! While some people food is perfectly safe for your pup, there are also numerous human foods that are toxic to dogs you should know about.
The list of toxic foods for dogs

We'll provide a list of toxic foods and ingredients for dogs, so you'll always have a quick reference guide on hand before you share a treat with your pup. Now, there's no excuse not to double-check! Better yet, try printing out the list and hanging it on your refrigerator so that everyone in your home is sure to see it. This way, your dog's safety is almost guaranteed.

Read more
Why do dogs run away? Causes, prevention, and tips you need to know
We'll also cover what to do if they manage to escape
Close-up of Labrador dog looking out of a barrier fence

No one loves us more than our dogs, which are ever devoted in their quests for human affection. But like so many people, they're also easily distracted and can dash off at the first sign of something interesting — a squirrel, for instance, will send many a pup out of the house or yard faster than a bullet.

Even a good boy might run away sometimes, but there are some methods you can use to keep your beastie safe and secure. After all, a loose dog is a recipe for trouble. So why do dogs run away? We'll take you through the causes and give you a few tips to get them to stay home.
Why do dogs escape?

Read more
Does your dog constantly sit on your feet? This is why
Here are the reasons a dog might gravitate toward your feet
A dog sits at the feet of two humans

Watching the funny sitting and sleeping positions our pets come up with has to account for at least half the joy of dog ownership. It seems that our beasties generally gravitate to one area for their naps, whether that's the left side of the bed, under the table, or on top of a human.

While some of this makes sense, it can be surprising when your dog sits on you in a weird way, especially on your feet. So why do dogs lay on your feet? Using your feet as a resting spot has a long history and stems from a few pretty interesting instincts.
Why do dogs lay on your feet?

Read more