A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

10 Noises Your Dog Makes—and What They Mean

A handy guide to translating the yips, yaps, yowls, and whimpers every dog makes so that you can understand furry BFF better.

a French bulldog puppy sits on a brown couch and yawns

Canine communication: Decoded

Pet parents, fess up: How often have you wished that your dog could talk? Chances are, pretty often. But the thing is, your dog is talking to you every day, all day long—you just have to figure out what he’s saying. It’s not as simple as decoding a bark or howl, the two sounds we most commonly associate with our furry friends. Dogs actually make a plethora of telling sounds, and each has its own distinct meaning. Here’s what you need to know to better understand your canine companion. And once you’re an expert, find out what your dog’s tail is trying to tell you.

Cute barking dog not aggressive on leash


You might have noticed that a dog’s bark varies greatly. That’s because barking is a dog’s way of communicating a variety of messages and emotions, including excitement, happiness, fear, or even an alert to danger. “With such varying meanings behind a dog’s bark, it’s no surprise that the pitch and forcefulness of the noise—just like with a human’s voice—can imply the reason behind their vocalization,” says Danielle Bernal, BVSc, MRCVS, a veterinarian with WellPet. “For instance, a fear-driven or panicked bark is often higher in repetition and intensity. This is compared to a monotonous bark that may communicate boredom.” Are you hearing a quick, high-pitched yap? Good news, especially if it’s combined with any of these other signs: It means that your dog is happy.

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Incessant barking

There’s a difference between brief barking and non-stop barking. “When the barking does not stop, it is often caused by anxiety in your furry friend,” says Evelyn Kass-Williamson, DVM, a veterinarian and the founder of Pet Nutrition Doctor. “Dogs may bark like this because they’re experiencing separation anxiety, or because they’re getting mixed messages from different family members and aren’t sure what to do. Be sure you are congruent when around these dogs, and above all, try to relax so they can, too.” Is your dog bored? Help alleviate boredom with these puzzle toys that will keep him entertained and engaged.

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Like barking, whining can also have a number of different meanings. Though we often associate whining with a negative emotion, that’s not always the case with dogs. In fact, it can simply be a dog’s way of getting human attention, notes the American Kennel Club (AKC). What is your pup trying to say? Possibly that he wants to play, eat, or go outside. Whining may also be a sign of stress, fear, or pain. It’s important to take all factors into consideration when deciphering your dog’s whining. By the way, here are the signs your dog is secretly mad at you.

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Howling is that classic head-back, guttural call that’s most often associated with wolves. “Howling links back to our dogs’ ancestor, the grey wolf,” explains Dr. Bernal. “As pack animals, wolves traditionally used this communication method to call to their pack to signal distress or motivate them to regroup for a hunt.” In terms of your domesticated dog, she says, that howl is often triggered by common noises like a siren, the sound of child’s toy, or the command of an owner. Here are some other reasons your dog may be howling.

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We often tie feelings of boredom or frustration to sighing, but that’s not the case for canines. According to the AKC, sighing is generally indicative of contentment, especially if it’s combined with half-closed, sleepy eyes. If your dog is wide-eyed and fully alert, however, it could be his way of catching your attention and asking for a little TLC or playtime. When in doubt, refer to this list of what dogs really want from you.

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Like barking and howling, growling can have a number of different meanings, ranging from being scared to feeling playful. “A hostile growl is often a warning sign to a person, another dog, or object that has frightened the dog. It signals that a serious attack may follow if the growl is not adhered to,” says Dr. Bernal. “On the other hand, a playful growl is often easy to identify. The key body language of a hostile growl is missing: visible teeth, flattened ears, and raised hairs.” For example, dogs often growl when playing tug-of-war!

Brown dog dreaming

Soft noises while asleep

When a pup makes soft grumbles, yaps, or whimpers while snoozing, it’s not cause for alarm. “This mix of noises simply means that a dog is in a deep stage of sleep, similar to our REM sleep,” says Dr. Bernal. “You may notice it’s also accompanied by a faster breathing rate and twitching of the muscles, limbs, or eyelids.” Your dog’s favorite sleeping position, on the other hand, can tell you a lot.

Funny face wrinkled Fila Brasileiro (Brazilian Mastiff) making silly face of distaste, sneezing, seasonal allergy concept


Don’t be fooled: Sneezing isn’t always caused by nasal irritation, allergies, or a canine cold. “Many dogs will sneeze with excitement or to get your attention,” says Dr. Kass-Williamson. “However, if there is ever thick nasal discharge that is white, yellow, or green, it means it’s time to call your vet.” Here are some other common signs your dog is sick.

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“Like the sneeze, this can be an attention-getter for the very squish-faced breeds,” explains Dr. Kass-Williamson. “However, when the snorting continues for a few seconds or longer, it can sound like your dog is choking. This is called a reverse sneeze and is often a sign of allergy or sinus congestion.” It’s best to schedule a visit with your vet if the issue is ongoing. Knowing what conditions your pet may be predisposed is important.

Young girl is resting with a dog on the armchair at home .

Low-pitched moaning

Though we often associate moaning with sadness or other negative emotions, it’s actually the opposite for dogs. It’s generally a sign that your dog is feeling at peace, according to the AKC. This sound is most commonly made by puppies—especially when they’re nestled up to their mom, siblings, or even human companion.

Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a Phoenix-based veteran lifestyle reporter covering home and garden, pets, wellness and travel for outlets such as Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, Insider and Reader's Digest. She received her bachelor's degree from Franklin College of Indiana's Pulliam School of Journalism, graduating magna cum laude. She has a second bachelor's degree in Philosophy.