Decoding what your dog is trying to say is an immensely helpful training tool, and this understanding can help bring you and your canine companion close.

Anyone who has spent much time in the company of dogs knows how desperately they try to understand what their people want from them. Nothing is more important to man’s best friend than to know he is in close communication with his familial pack. To achieve this, your dog will be on constant watch for signs of communication from you and adversely conversing with feedback of his own.

Barking Dog Statistics

Thanks to organizations like the North Shore Animal League (NSAL) many unwanted dogs have been adopted and found forever homes regardless of perceived behavioral problems. According to NSAL statistics, over 10 percent of all adopted dogs are returned to U.S. shelters because of behavioral issues. Further studies, done by the Human Society of the United States, have delved deeper into the specifics of canine behavioral problems to find that 41 percent involve excessive and inappropriate barking.

Any dog expert will tell you; dogs bark for a reason. Every time a dog uses its voice it has meaning and decoding your dog’s bark will not only help you communicate better with your dog but will also help decipher a whole host of other issues about your dog.

Dog Talk: Barking, Growling and Howling

Dog Talk: Barking, Growling, and Howling

Dog Trainers Define Dog Barking

Defining the reasons dogs bark is not an exact science but many experts, like National Geographic’s Cesar Millan, have made great strides in understanding the critical components of barking in dogs. According to a feature article in Millan’s canine publication, Cesar’s Way, there are four elements behind a dog’s bark, and each carries a clear message.

  • “I am Bored” – Cesar cites a case when he worked with a dog named Fella. Fella is a Jack Russell Terrier and Greyhound mix with an overabundance of energy. Both breeds behind Fella’s make-up dictate that he will be an energetic little dog but when this character trait develops into incessant barking his owner’s very sanity can be tested. In Fella’s situation, there was a combination of factors, boredom being the primary one, but also Fella was experiencing separation anxiety. With Cesar’s help, Fella’s owners began to accurately translate Fella’s intent and put their dog on a vigorous exercise regimen that included long walks and playtime before and after work. The separation anxiety was addressed by a ritualistic exercise that included leaving home for very brief periods of time and extending the absence a little at a time, assuring Fella that leaving did not equate to abandonment.
  • “I am spoiled” – Not all of us can provide our dogs with a one-hundred-dollar weekly toy allowance, nor do our dogs have a cashmere sweater for every day of the month. This opulence was the life of another of Cesar’s charges named Prada. While our dogs may not be the extremely pampered pooch that Prada is, we all spoil our dogs to some extent. To recognize the attitude associated with a bratty bark, that has advanced to occasional growling, dog experts did not have to look far. Prada’s owners were operating from a place of guilt over having lost Prada’s mate and were overcompensating. In this case, as with most dog training corrective methods, you eliminate the cause and then work on the behavior. Learning to address their dog with calmness and clarity soon eliminated Prada’s socially unacceptable acting out.
  • “I am Confused” – Sonny, a rescued German Shepherd, had an early fright brought on by a stranger that left him confused about people’s intentions and traumatized. This ordeal left Sonny apt to bark loudly and often. The key to Sonny’s evolution came in the form of extensive socialization and a rewarding system. When Sonny approached a stranger or a potentially overwhelming situation calmly, he was offered a treat. It was also important for Sonny to have confidence in his “pack leader.” This came after Sonny’s owners learned to stop enhancing his anxieties by offering affection when he was upset, whereby reinforcing his agitation.
  • “I am Scared” – Hootie had aspirations for the doggie world equivalent of the National Olympics in agility. His dreams were quickly squashed by a hoard of loud and raucous skateboarders as they unintentionally barreled down on the dog and his owner while they were out for an afternoon walk. Since then, Hootie has cowered and barked, non-stop, at the sight of any young person. His fear left him stymied and unable to socialize, let alone compete. The cure for Hootie’s panic-based barking had two tiers. He had to experience children head-on. For this Cesar brought his oft-available sons and side-kicks, Calvin and Andre. Once Hootie realized “small people” were nothing to fear, the barking stopped. Cesar is convinced that dog’s do pick up on their owners fear, so that part of the issue had to be addressed as well.
Dog Trainers Define Dog Barking

Dog Trainers Define Dog Barking

Dog Experts – Deciphering the Bark

Cesar makes use of a widely acclaimed behavior guide called, How Dogs Think. Written by canine psychologist Stanley Coren, the book hones in on the correct interpretation of dog barking. Coren says, “The underlying rule seems to be that the longer the sound, the more likely the dog is making a conscious decision about the nature of the signal and the behaviors that are to follow.”

Coren further takes into account repetition and intensity which allows dog owners to read their dog’s urgency and react accordingly. And remember, as, with all behavioral modification, much practice is essential for any dog training to be effective.

Your Dog Has Different Kinds of Barks — Here’s Why


  • Dog Fancy Magazine, “The Secret Language of Barking – What is your dog trying to tell you?” Pg 46
  • North Shore Animal League America Website