Dog Speak. The “Tail” Begins

Dog Speak. The "Tail" Begins

by: Judy Hamontre, AVHS Volunteer 

My first miniature schnauzer, Riley, was unusual in that she seldom barked.

My next mini-schnauzer, Destiny, barked but she also purred like a cat.  She had a different way of communicating than Riley, although they were the same breed.

I eventually learned their “talk,” just as all loving dog owners learn the communication of their furry friends.

Dogs have quite a “vocabulary.”  They bark, growl, snarl, whine, whimper, yelp, howl, sing and purr. Your dog may not make all these sounds, but he definitely has his vocalizations to tell you what he wants and feels.

Deciphering this dog language can be accomplished by using sound, pitch, tone, duration and body language as cues.

Barking is the common sound we expect dogs to make.

Some dogs bark more than others.  Some have deep, rumbling barks while others have high-pitched yips.

Your dog may bark when he hears a noise or sees something outside the window.  He may bark when you come home or to get your attention to indicate that he wants to eat, play or come in from the outside.

Once you’re used to your dog’s distinctive barks, it’s easier to understand what they mean.  High-pitched barks are welcoming, while deep barks may be an alert. A wagging-tail bark expresses joy while a crouched-body, angry bark with hackles up can mean fear or aggression.

As well as pitch, duration of a bark is an indicator of your dog’s message.  Rapid barking is a warning that someone is entering his territory.  Nonstop barking can be a sign of separation anxiety.  If your neighbors tell you, your pup barks incessantly when you’re away, he is lonely to the point of being distressed.

A couple of short, bright barks expresses happiness to see you and maybe a desire to play, but one short, sharp bark says “stop it!  I’ve had enough.”

Growling is another common dog sound, one we first assume is bad, but it may be the happy sound of play.  Your dog’s tone and body language will tell you whether you should give him space or encourage him.

A growl is first and foremost a warning.  If a dog is afraid, angry, possessive or in pain, he tells you by growling or snarling. He also will become stiff with his hackles raised, and he may bare his teeth.

This warns aggression, and that the next move could be snapping or biting.  You need to give him space or if possible, carefully separate him from the situation causing stress.

The aggressive growl is a fierce sound.  In a study where humans listened to various types of growls, researchers found people are actually quite good at discerning when a growl is serious versus when it’s playful.

The playful growl is less intense and the body language is loose and wiggly.

Barking and growling are only two vocalizations your dog uses to speak to you.  Stay tuned for the rest of this story, for your dog has a lot to say.


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