Dog Language:
Your Dog-to-English Translation Guide

by Gary Le Mon

Dog pronouncing his words

Dog language got you puzzled? You’re not alone.

Dogs are incredibly social animals with an arsenal of communication skills that can rival even those of humans.

Many of us tend to lump canine interactions into just one category – barking.

But in reality there are many different kinds of dog messages with each one attempting to convey an entirely different emotion or signal.

Barking Up the Vocalization Tree

Here are some of the more common bark variations along with their meanings:

  • High-pitched barks are usually an indicator of anxiety or stress. Oftentimes a dog will unleash this troublesome noise after being locked in their crate or kennel for too long. Sufferers of separation anxiety will also exhibit this squeal-like sound. Translation: "Is this any way to treat your best friend!?"
  • Short, repetitious barks occur when a dog is excited and happy. This type of yap is often displayed during playful sessions between the dog and its owner. Translation: "Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!"
  • Low, intermittent barks can be indicative of aggression and dissatisfaction. Prior to attacking something (or someone), dogs will typically emit this hostile snarl. Translation: Go ahead, make my day ... "
  • Isolated, monotonous barks are usually exhibited when the dog wants to draw attention to something such as a sudden movement or sound. Translation: "

Dog Language Beyond the Bark

Dog sounds do not end with barking. They will also use other methods of vocalization and body signals to convey their emotions and feelings. Growling, howling, and whining are examples of other commonly observed canine discourse.

Growling is a sign of aggression and anger in the animal. Translation: "I'm gonna tear you a new rear end!"

Howling is a bit more complex than your average human would think. Dogs will howl for different reasons such as long-range communication with other dogs. Translation: "Yo, Larry! Ssup in yo hood?" Dogs howl when separated from their owner in an attempt to gain sympathy and get him or her to return. Translation: "I miss you sooooooooo much!"

Whining is best characterized by the irksome sound dogs make when they want something, like a treat. It is formed with the mouth closed and by creating vibrations that exit through the nasal passage, thus emitting a compelling and sometimes annoying, high-pitched whimper. Translation: "Just one more cookie, pleeeeease!"

Feral Body Dog Language

Understanding body language is also helpful in becoming a successful dog owner. What is your dog trying to tell you when its tail is down? What is it attempting to convey when it stomps its feet on the ground? What does it mean when the dog licks someone? Here are some of the more common non-vocal signals from dogs and their explanations.

  • Licking is the best way for a dog to say hello. When a dog first encounters another canine or a friendly but unfamiliar human, they will often smell them first followed by briefly licking them. Translation: "You passed the sniff test, now let's try the taste test."
  • Raised eyebrows (and ears) are indicative of curiosity and interest. For example, a sudden noise or movement may trigger this reaction. Translation: "Ready to pounce as soon as I figure out what I'm pouncing on."
  • Lowered eyebrows, on the other hand, are a sure sign of dissatisfaction. Translation: "Oh, poop!"
  • Tilting the head can convey curiosity and often occurs in conjunction with hearing his master's voice. Translation: "That's the most profound thing anybody has ever said."
  • Feet stomping is typically reserved for extreme excitement. You better keep a tight leash on your dog when both of you are outdoors and this reaction happens! Translation: "Let's get ready to rum-bllllle!!!"
  • Tail position is important in determining a dog’s mood. A raised tail indicates interest and increased alertness. Translation: "Lead the way, oh mighty pack leader!" A tail that is hung between the legs indicates embarrassment and sadness. Translation: "I've never been so humiliated in all my life" A wagging tail accompanies happiness and excitement. Translation: "Life is wonderful when you're me."

Happy Endings

The range of dog language and other communication skills is vast. Paying attention to what your dog is trying to tell you – beyond just barking – will soon lead to a successful partnership between you and your furry friend, forming a bond that can’t be broken.


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