Dog Barks Decoded: The Meaning of the Sounds Dogs Make

A small white dog is barking. What is the meaning of the sound she's making?
What is your dog trying to tell you?

Dogs are members of the canidae family, which also includes wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals and hyenas. Just as their wild counterparts, dogs communicate with other animals and with us through the sounds they make. 

Most dogs have a variety of vocalizations that are associated with what they want and how they are feeling – from happy to fearful, content or excited, annoyed or agitated.

The meaning of a dog’s sounds are varied and sometimes curious. The team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center is here to decipher some of these barks, growls, mumbles, and yips into a discernible dictionary for us humans.

Dogs Make An Assortment of Sounds

Far from the standard “ruff, ruff”, dogs sound off in a variety of ways. Each of these sounds correspond to something your dog is communicating. Let’s explore some of these familiar canine calls.

  1. Barking – A dog may bark as a warning, an invitation, a call of distress, or just because it’s happy. There are many reasons for the bark, but it always means your dog is communicating something. If your dog is distressed or fearful, it may sound off in a repetitive high-pitched tone. Your usual “gruff” and “ruff” sounds generally coincide with happiness or playtime.

    A low-toned bark that sounds like rumbles or growls means that whatever is bothering your dog should back off. A growl can precede a bite and should be taken seriously. If your dog wants something (such as a treat), the bark is sharp and repetitive. Alert barking, as when your dog sees something of concern in the distance, has a high-pitched staccato rhythm. 

    Ironically, wild canids rarely bark, but do whine, howl, rumble and growl. A bark by a wild canid is solely a ‘danger alert’ behavior and a call for backup.
  1. Howls – When your dog howls, is it channeling its inner wolf? Probably not. Howling doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is seeking to join other canids. Many dogs howl at passing sirens, other alarm sounds, bells, and even at us when we howl for fun. In some cases, howling is a form of locating others, including you. It may also be a call for attention when a dog feels ignored, stressed or anxious. 

  2. Whining – Whining is often anxiety based, as in anticipation or worry. It is commonly used as a form of begging to get food, table scraps, or treats. Whining can also be a sign of pain or distress, so follow up with our veterinarian if this is a new or especially pronounced behavior. 
  1. Snorts and low mumbles Whether it’s to get your attention, be allowed on the bed or given dinner, dog snorts, mumbles, or grumbles can mean that your dog wants you to do something. Some dogs have a very expressive number of muffled sounds when they want something from us. These sounds can also be an expression of excitement, as when greeting someone or when the leash comes out and the dog knows it’s going on a walk. 

  2. Growling – Growling is mostly seen in dogs when they are fearful, behaving aggressively, or if something in their environment is perceived as a threat.  If your dog displays aggression, these sounds should be your cue to get your dog away from the situation, strangers, or other pets. Ongoing growling should be addressed with our veterinarian or our Pet Behavior Specialist during a behavior consult.

Occasionally, growling can be a sign of playfulness, especially if your pet is doing something fun or roughhousing with other friendly dogs. Puppies will often play-growl at their peers out of excitement or to get them to play. 

Although a growl is a warning, it is a normal part of dog to dog behavior. Older dogs will often growl at puppies to tell them to behave.

Pitch, Tone, and Duration

The pitch (high, medium or low), frequency (rapid barking vs slow), and duration (time spent barking) all play an important role in what a dog is expressing. 

The more you listen to your dog’s bark and observe your dog’s behavior while barking, the better equipped you will be to understand your dog. It will also help you be more sensitive to what it needs and wants in its relationship with you.  

Seek The Meaning 

Dog sounds are interesting, indeed, and more involved than one may think. They signal what a dog is feeling and thinking, and offer a fascinating domain to explore with our canine companions! Seeking to better understand what our dogs are communicating enriches the special relationship we share with them!

If you would like more information on how to decode your dog’s bark, or to schedule an exam or behavioral consult for your dog, please call us. We are here to help your dog have a great life with you!

Understanding Old Dog Vestibular Disease 

Anyone who’s ever suffered from vertigo or an inner ear problem understands the unsettling dizziness, loss of coordination and nausea that can accompany these types of conditions. Dogs can experience a similar condition known as canine vestibular disease.  

There are several types of canine vestibular disease. Some may be due to serious causes, such as a brain tumor, neurological infection or other neurological disorder. However, there is a benign self-limiting type that affects mostly older dogs. Because of this, it is commonly referred to as ‘old dog vestibular disease’, which is the focus of this discussion.   

The symptoms of old dog vestibular disease can be quite bewildering for any pet owner. At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we see this problem in many of our older patients, so we’d like to shed some light on this mostly benign form of canine vestibular disease.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Dog House Training

Bringing home a new puppy is one of life’s great joys, but the prospect of potty training your newest family member can be daunting. Even adult dogs can experience some setbacks when it comes to proper elimination, whether they are recently adopted or you’ve raised them from puppyhood. 

At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we’ve seen a lot when it comes to the challenges of house training our dogs. So, with the help of our on-staff professional dog trainer, we’ve put together a few tried and true tips to help you navigate a smooth and stress-free transition with your special companion.

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Does Your Dog Have What it Takes to Be a Therapy Dog?

Do people routinely tell you how wonderful your dog is? If you are used to hearing “You have the best dog in the world!”, and you’re interested in sharing your dog with others who may benefit from your dog’s sweetness, perhaps you should consider therapy dog training! After all, what better way to spread the happiness and comfort that your dog brings than taking your sweet pup into a hospital or to a senior center where there are people who would appreciate a visit from a special four-legged companion?

Anyone who owns a dog knows how much this special bond adds to their quality of life, and there’s science to back it up. Recently, therapy dogs have been recognized by the scientific community for the health and healing benefits that they offer. Studies show that simply petting a dog stimulates the release of “feel good” neurochemicals, and contributes to lowered blood pressure, less depression, and an overall reduction in stress. There are numerous ways that therapy dogs can provide support, companionship, hope, and other health benefits to help people heal from both physical and psychological ailments. 

What is a Therapy Dog?

Unlike a service dog, which is specifically trained to provide a set of services for an individual with specific needs, therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and companionship for individuals who are in an institutionalized setting, such as a hospital or nursing home. Over the past several years, therapy dogs have become more common in other public places where people often need some cheering-up by a visit with a sweet and friendly canine.

Some examples of the amazing ways therapy dogs touch the lives of those they come into contact with include: 

  • Elevating the mood of patients in hospitals and nursing homes. 
  • Reducing anxious feelings in airports, schools, and other settings. 
  • Providing social and emotional support to individuals with a variety of ailments.
  • Reducing the stress and anxiety that often accompany physical and mental disorders.

Therapy Dog Credentials

A dog of any breed or age can become a therapy dog, provided they have the right personality traits, are well trained, and consistently and reliably demonstrate exemplary behavior. Therapy dogs should be:

  • Calm
  • Reliably friendly towards strangers
  • Well-socialized around children and adults
  • Highly responsive to basic obedience commands
  • Highly adaptable to new environments, noise, smells, and other novel stimuli

Most therapy dog organizations also require that dogs be in excellent health, fully vaccinated and undergo routine physical examinations with their veterinarian. They must also be clean and well-groomed at the time of their visits.

If you think your dog has what it takes to become a therapy dog, your team at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center has some suggestions on how to get started.

Team Training

Since there’s a lot more to becoming a therapy dog than just knowing that you have a great dog, it’s important to understand the requirements and steps involved. Now comes the serious preparation and team training, as it’s not just your dog entering into a hospital, nursing home, library, or school – you’ll be there, too – so you both need to be a well-functioning team.

  • The first step for most therapy dog training protocols is for the dog to have gone through a basic obedience training class and graduated with flying colors.
  • Next, comes taking and passing the AKC Good Citizen Program, and lots of practice to make sure your dog has mastered its obedience skills in a variety of public settings and other real-life situations. 
  • Step three involves either enrolling in a therapy dog training course or a dedicated home training program. A therapy dog should be extremely responsive to its handler, and be able to stay calm and happy despite loud noises, abrupt movement, medical or other equipment, the attention of strangers, and any other distraction that may occur.
  • In order to become an animal-assisted therapy team, you and your dog must successfully pass a final evaluation, be certified, and registered with a national therapy dog organization.

Finally, remember that our goal is to help your pet have a healthy and long life with you, so don’t forget the wellness examinations, vaccinations, and parasite prevention! As always, don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions and concerns regarding your pet’s well-being.

The Reverse Sneeze: What It Is And When To Worry

You are minding your own business, when out of nowhere comes the odd, surprising, and utterly weird sound of honking or wheezy snorting from your dog. You run to your pet’s aid, only to discover that he or she is perfectly fine, standing there as though nothing has happened. But what did happen? Do you call us or drop everything and rush your pet in as an emergency?

It is likely that what your pet just experienced is known as paroxysmal respiration, more commonly called “reverse sneezing”. Hearing a reverse sneeze can certainly be alarming, but it’s often a normal occurrence for a dog or cat. 

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Understanding TPLO Surgery In Dogs

Was your dog running happily through the yard one minute, then limping and unable to put weight on one of its rear legs the next? Or, have you watched your older dog become less active due to a gradual deterioration in one of its knees, a problem that you know is affecting your dog’s quality of life? 

A torn cranial cruciate ligament (called CCL in pets and ACL in humans) may be to blame. This is a common problem in dogs and, in many cases, requires surgery to correct and to prevent further damage to the knee joint as time goes on.

Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) surgery is one of the most widely used procedures for repairing a torn CCL in dogs (and sometimes cats). At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we are fortunate to have a skilled and certified TPLO surgeon on our medical team who has helped hundreds of dogs return to an active life through TPLO surgery. Since we have seen so many successful results with this procedure, we thought it important to explain what TPLO surgery is, why it’s so effective, and offer tips for supporting your dog’s orthopedic health after TPLO surgery.

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Splish Splash: Where Should Your Dog Swim?

For dogs that love the water, going for a swim on a hot day is a real treat and one of the best parts of summer! However, finding a safe place for your pooch to splash around in is another issue entirely. Should your dog swim in a chlorinated pool? What about a local lake or river? Is it safer to just fill up a kiddie pool in the backyard?   

At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we want pets to get plenty of exercise and bonding time with their owners. With careful observation, appropriate safety measures, and a little common sense, you might find swimming to be an enjoyable activity for you and your furry pal!

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Dog Parks: Are They Right For Your Dog?

It sounds like a great idea – take your dog to a large, fenced-in area where it can run free with other canine friends. You get to skip the daily walk, check your email, maybe chat with other dog owners, then leave with an exhausted-but-happy dog. What could be better?

Dog parks can be big on the convenience factor for us humans, but being in close proximity to lots of other dogs can also present some problems for your dog. Before taking your pup to the park, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons, so we at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center have some important points for you to consider.

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Differently-Abled, Definitely Wonderful: Dispelling Deaf Dog Myths

Caring for a deaf dog can live a long and happy life. There’s something special about dogs. Perhaps it’s their unwavering loyalty and devotion or their unique ability to read our emotions and body language. Maybe it’s the way they inspire joy in our lives every single day. Whatever the case, the bond between human and canine is awe-inspiring.

When most of us look at our dogs, we only see their inner light, and this is never more apparent than with deaf dogs. Unfortunately, deaf dog myths abound in our culture, but in reality, dogs of any ability level can lead happy, productive lives. At Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center, we’ve set out to dispel the top 5 deaf dog myths and to show our readers what these often misunderstood pets can do. Continue…

Keeping Illness at Bay with Pet Vaccinations

Pet vaccinations are designed to protect your pet against infectious diseases that could be fatal or greatly reduce your pet’s quality of life.Most of us know that our pets need to be vaccinated, and when we follow through with their regular wellness exams, this is usually done during the exam within the appropriate time frame. Knowing which vaccines your pet needs, however, as well as why and when, isn’t always something that’s widely understood by pet owners.

Since August is National Immunization Awareness Month, we at Lone Tree Veterinary Medical Center can’t think of a better time to discuss this important component of pet care.

Core and More

Pet vaccinations are designed to protect your pet against infectious diseases that could be fatal or greatly reduce your pet’s quality of life. Some are mandatory and some not. To add to the confusion, they’re not all given on the same schedule or at the same time.

Vaccines are categorized into two major groups as follows:   Continue…