Understanding Your Dog’s Language Through Sound

Dogs have been our best friends since humans first domesticated them some 23,000 years ago. Our furry companions are pure joy and bliss for us.  It’s as if they were sent by the creator to soothe our souls and keep us grounded in what actually matters.

Dogs have also communicated their desires, discontent, needs, and wants with humans ever since then. Scientists say they have even evolved their sounds to appeal to human emotions for thousands of years. 

We have compiled some interesting facts about their sound language to help you understand your dog better.

Understanding Dog Barking Sounds

Barking is the quintessential sound of the dog. We all know dogs bark, and it is their primary form of communication. However, there are variations of the barking sounds they make, signifying different expressions to get your attention for different needs.  We all have heard different kinds of barks from dogs – from a deep-throated growly bark to a high-pitched bark. 

Dogs will bark if there is someone at the door when someone arrives, when sensing an intruder, or when they hear an unfamiliar voice.  On the flip side, they will also bark when they need your attention – like asking to let them inside or asking for a treat or food.

Generally speaking, a high-pitched bark is a happy bark. Meanwhile, a deep-throated growly bark signifies alertness or alarm.

Playful, happy barks may also be interspersed with another sound: snorting. If you are wondering why your dog is snorting or sneezing, it’s generally because they are being playful.

Along with the barking, you also will need to pay attention to their body language.  A relaxed torso with a wagging tail and happy-looking face is the body language of a happy/relaxed dog.  Meanwhile, a tensed torso and a stiff tail are signs of aggression/alertness.

Understanding Dog Whining Sounds

Recent scientific research suggests that humans have the same emotional reaction to hearing their dogs whimper or whine as they do to the sound of a baby crying.

The study hypothesizes that dogs are better able to communicate with humans (compared to other animals) because of their reliance on people. There is a very good reason for that.  Whining is a sound they make to beg and convince you to do something for them.  This is their sound of appeal.  This is also their sound of vulnerability.

Whining or whimpering is a sound that dogs and puppies make to get your attention to address a specific need. They may whine or whimper to ask you to give them food or a treat or to let them outside so they can go to the bathroom.  Sometimes, they will also whine as they see you preparing food or treats for them.

They also whine to express pain or discomfort. Usually, whimpering associated with discomfort is higher pitched than other types of whining.

The way to decipher what they wish to express is to observe their body language.  If they are crouched over, hiding their face, or bowing their head while whining, it could be a sign they are in discomfort.

Another reason for their whining is separation anxiety or fear.  You will be able to decipher this one based on their body language, time of day, and the circumstances happening around them.

Dogs also often change the pitch in which they whine based on the situation and scenario.  Their types of whining also differ from dog to dog, and as you get to know your dog, you will know exactly what they are trying to express with their whining sounds.

Understanding Growling Sounds

By now, you are getting the gist that dogs use vocalization and sound to communicate all sorts of needs and emotions. This is how they have communicated with their best friends (humans) for thousands of years. These sound languages are also used to communicate between wild canines.

Growling is another vocalization dogs use to express a slew of emotions and needs. Growling is a low-pitched reverberation of the vocal cords that dogs make with their mouths closed. This sound is expressed for a variety of reasons.

Typically speaking, growling is used by dogs for two sorts of emotions:

  • Warning expressions
  • Play expressions

These expressions are used by dogs to warn others.  Your dog will growl if they feel threatened or vulnerable.  They can also growl to guard their resources like food or toys.

Because growling can lead to escalation and aggression, it is important for you to recognize what kind of growling your dog is doing.  Keep an eye on their body language for signs of aggression if you hear a growl. Warning growls are very different from play growls. Warning growls are deep-throated and are often accompanied by heightened alertness with a stiff body and stiff tail.

For warning growls, you will have to train your dog to reserve those for absolute necessities only.  You can do this by socializing them early on as a puppy to perceive other pets as non-threatening.

Play growls are one of the cutest expressions you will hear from your dog.  This is the lower-pitched growl they will give out when they are playing a game of tug of war.  To decipher this type of growl, you will have to rely on situational cues and body language, as always.

Understanding Dog Howling Sounds

Howling is a sound expression that not all dog breeds engage in.  This is an evolutionary left-over sound expression that dogs inherited from wolves.  Wolves or coyotes would usually howl to let another member of their pack know where they are.  Howling is also used to assert their reign over their territory. 

Dogs may howl for different reasons.  Some dogs may howl to a certain tune of music or the siren of an emergency vehicle going by.  Others may howl if they hear another dog in the distance – remember, their hearing is much stronger than humans.

Unlike growling, howling is not usually associated with any risk of aggression; you may not need to course-correct them over howling. Howling for them is simply letting other dogs in the distance know they are there.  Sometimes it is just their inner instincts letting loose. 

Either way, it is completely healthy and normal for dogs of any breed to howl. However, you may notice that huskies or German shepherds are more prone to howling as they are the closest relatives to the modern wolf.

Understanding Dog Purring Sounds

Purring sounds are usually associated with cats.  However, did you know dogs can purr too? While cat purrs are quieter and more subtle to the human ear, dog purring is a bit more prominent.

Purring is a sound that dogs make to express contentment and relaxation.  It is a deep-throated grumble noise that sounds like a ‘brrr” noise.  It is similar to a growl but much more subtle (and far less ominous).

You may hear your furry friend purr when you are petting them or cuddling them.  They may give out cute purring sounds just as they are to embark on some of their favorite activities – like going on a car ride or out for a walk.  You will often also hear them purr when they are simply content to be lying next to you in bed.

This is one of those blissful sound expressions every dog owner learns to love about their furry friends.

Understanding Singing Sounds

If you are really lucky, you might get a dog that sings.  Yes, singing is something some dogs do!  This is not common in all breeds, but some certainly belt out a tune or two here and there.  The usual trigger for these harmonic sounds is music on the radio or TV. 

Much like howling, scientists associate the singing instincts with the close connection between dogs and their cousins, wolves.

This is a non-alarming sound expression that you should embrace if your dog is one of those singing dogs.  We suggest you pick up your phone and record a video of them singing and post it on social media, and who knows, your furry friend might become the next viral sensation.


Dogs are intelligent animals with the ability to become the best friends we will ever have.  Their playful nature, their forever puppy-like behavior, and their little tricks and antics are what gives us joy after our long day battling it out in the outside world.

Their vocalizations and sound languages are part of the way they know how to communicate with their favorite humans.  Learn to understand them, and you and your dog will bond in a very special way that no other beings can replicate.  Happy dog parenting!