They are creatures of few “words” yet dogs can communicate easily with canines everywhere. If you were to travel to a foreign country, you would have to abandon your vast verbal vocabulary and resort to making basic gestures. Your dog, however, upon meeting a foreign dog, would be able to know through body language and through sniffs what each other’s social status is, their age and sex, their general health, where they’ve been, and availability to mate. Then, should it be necessary, through barks or growls, they can also determine how friendly or aggressive the other dog is and how they should proceed with the relationship.
A dog’s primary communication is first through scent, then body language, and then his vocal sounds such as barking, growling and whining. Dogs living with humans quickly figure out that communicating through scent is useless – we’ll never appreciate messages embedded on a fencepost. So our dogs speak through body language, because we understand it fairly well, and through barking, because it definitely gets our attention.
Accordingly, all dogs share a universal barking language. The vocal sounds, though limited in the “words” which are barks, growls, whines, yips, yelps, whimpers and howls, are quite varied in the pitch, repetition and duration and these “inflections” form meaning. Generally, lower-pitched sounds are warnings and higher-pitched sounds are friendly. Regardless of your dog’s size, it knows if it lowers its voice, it may be perceived as being larger. Conversely, even large breeds may whine to say they are no threat.
The duration of a dog’s bark, whine or growl can significantly change the meaning of what your dog is communicating. Shorter sounds indicate more intensity, fear or surprise, while longer sounds are less urgent and more thought-out. For example, a quick yelp can indicate pain or unpleasant surprise, while the longer version of the same sound, a whimper can be a plea for the food you’re eating. Many barks in a row indicate agitation or excitement, while a few barks indicate an interest in something, but it’s no big deal.
A growl is a clear warning. The deeper the growl, the more serious the warning, and the more confident the dog is to back it up with aggression. A dog that stops growling, but maintains its stance, is through with negotiations and is ready to act. On a happier note, howling can be a dog’s way of singing, and some will produce a howl upon hearing high-pitched sounds.
Pay attention to your dog’s barking. They are rarely just making noise. Usually, they has something to say.
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