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Types of canine vocal communication


Dogs, as well as wolves, use many types of vocalizations to communicate. This communication starts very early in life. Young puppies make a mewing-like sound when they are searching for food or warmth. Louder crying sounds are heard if the puppy is hurt or frustrated. As dogs get older, they make five main classes of sounds: howls, growls, grunts, whines, and barks. Each of these sounds is used for a specific purpose.

[heading style=”1″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Howling[/heading]

Howling is used as a means of long-range communication in many different circumstances. Howls are more often associated with wolves, but dogs howl too. Wolves often howl to signify territorial boundaries, locate other pack members, coordinate activities such as hunting, or attract other wolves for mating. Dogs may howl as a reaction to certain stimuli such as sirens.

[heading style=”1″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Growling[/heading]

Growling can occur in very different activities. It is used to threaten, warn, in defense, in aggression, and to show dominance. But growling is also used in play as well. By looking at the body posture we should be able to tell the difference. Growls during aggression are accompanied by a stare or snarl, and the growling dog often remains stationary. Play-growls occur in combination with a happy tail and a play bow to signal willingness to play. These dogs are often moving and jumping about to entice play.

[heading style=”1″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Grunts[/heading]

Grunts in dogs are the equivalent of contented sighs in people. They can also be heard when dogs are greeting each other or people.

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[heading style=”1″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Whining[/heading]

Whines or whimpers are short- or medium-range modes of communication. Dogs may whine when they greet each other, are showing submissiveness, are frustrated or in pain, to obtain attention, and sometimes in defense. Dogs generally whine more than wolves, perhaps because they use the whine more as an attention-seeking behavior, and are often rewarded for it. Think about it. The first sound you may hear from a new puppy is the whine at night when he finds himself alone. We often are guilty of unintentionally reinforcing this whining by giving the puppy the attention he wants.

[heading style=”1″ color=”#996633″ style_color=”#996633″]Barking[/heading]

Barking is another mode of communication that seems to be more common in dogs than other canine species. Again, this may be the result of human encouragement. Certain breeds have been bred to bark as part of their watchdog or herding duties. Barking is used to alert or warn others and defend a territory, to seek attention or play, to identify oneself to another dog, and as a response to boredom, excitement, being startled, lonely, anxious, or teased. General types of barking include:

  • Alert/warning barks are the type of barks many owners encourage. They want their dog to alert them to the presence of a danger or suspicious stranger. Warning barks tend to become more rapid as the intruder approaches. Aggressive barks are low in pitch and may be combined with growls. We need to be able to distinguish warning barks from barks due to fear.
  • Attention-seeking barks are most often used by puppies to get you to focus your attention on them. They can become very insistent and hard to ignore, but ignore them we must.
  • Play/excitement barks are often short and sharp. When the dog becomes overstimulated, it’s time for a “time-out.”
  • Self-identification barking is what you may be hearing when your dog seems to be answering other dogs he hears barking in the neighborhood. It is his way of saying, “I am over here.”
  • Bored barkers simply need an outlet for their energy and a more stimulating environment.
  • Lonely/anxious barking occurs if your dog is experiencing separation anxiety. The barking can become self-reinforcing as he becomes more stimulated and anxious. Anxious barks tend to get higher in pitch as the dog becomes more upset. This type of barking can be especially annoying to your neighbors.
  • Startle barking occurs in response to an unfamiliar or sudden sound or movement. As with an alert/warning bark, we need to be able to control this type of barking quickly.

Obviously, barking is a normal behavior. However, there are some instances in which barking become a nuisance.  If continual barking is creating a problem, then find a solution to stop it quickly as you could be cited or even fined for your pet’s bad behavior.

Training, exercise, “Smart” toys, and even citronella bark collars can help you improve your pet’s behavior. For more information on how to stop barking, visit our behavioral section.

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