How do dogs communicate with their voice?

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When a dog speaks, it always does it in the same way. Whether it is speaking to fellow dogs or to its owner, the dog’s language is always the same and never changes.

In this article, we will look at the 6 ways dogs communicate with us with their voice.

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Barking is specific to domesticated dogs. It is rather rare for wild dogs to bark. The domesticated dog, which was created to resemble humans, is learning to use its voice to communicate. Certain vocal modulations are developing in dogs and vary depending on the breed.

Here are different reasons why dogs bark:

  • Warn of a potential threat
  • Invite the owner to play
  • Ask to go out to do its business
  • Ask for water or food
  • Notify a stranger of its presence
  • Other meaning (a baby crying, the phone ringing, etc.)

Each bark is precise and can take on a different tone depending on the reason for barking. Like a parent learning to understand a baby’s sounds, an owner learns to recognize the different tones used by the dog. The owner learns to understand its mode of communication.

Contrary to popular belief, a dog welcoming a visitor by barking is not generally a threat. Actually, it is the opposite. If the dog runs straight at a stranger instead of making its presence known by barking, it may be a watchdog that does not tolerate any intrusion on its territory. Rather, a dog barking at the arrival of a stranger is likely asking for permission to be caressed or given attention. 


Equivalent to a very precise call for help, yelping is often used by puppies feeling threatened. Adult dogs can also yelp when in grave danger or suffering intense pain. 

General translation: “Help!”


In the case of numerous breeds, including sled dog breeds like the Husky, whining may sound like an endless speech. Whining may be done to signify many things. It suffices to visit a kennel or animal shelter to hear plenty of whining. 

Dogs that whine the most are usually dogs that bark the least. This sound is generally used by the dog to express its disagreement regarding an action made by the owner or responsible person. 

General translation: “Take care of me!”, “Take me out of here!”.


Howling is a social activity for the dog. It may be used to lead the owner in a direction, to warn others not to come on its territory, to indicate it is lonely or to react to a stimulus (such as a fire engine siren). It is an ancient heritage from wolves. For wolves, howling is an essential means of communication and is learned at a very young age. 

Because dogs cannot distinguish between certain sounds, it may howl in response to what it perceives as a howling sound such as the chiming of a bell, a siren or a musical note. 

Not knowing how to interpret these sounds, howling is done as a social convention. Since the domesticated dog is part of the family pack, howling is done to respond to the call of the pack.

It is also quite common to see your dog howling when he hears music.

General translation: “Hey! I’m here!”


Sounding like a sneeze, it is actually a bark made with a closed muzzle and is meant as a warning because a dog cannot sneeze. The dog is on the alert because it suspects something unusual is occurring.   

General translation: “I don’t exactly know what is happening but something is happening!”


This sound is often made to signify discontent or to ask for something. It is a kind of choked growling noise that is made repeatedly and sounds like the animals in the 60s cartoon “The Hillbilly Bears”.   

It is a rather comical means of communication used by the dog to express its disagreement such as when it must go to bed. It is not uncommon for the dog to continue its moaning after the command has been executed. It can look like a teenager responding to his or her parents when it does not agree with a house rule even though the teenager complies. 

The dog executes a command from the owner but continues to moan to clearly demonstrate that it does not agree. Moaning often leads to funny situations. It may look like negotiations are taking place when the owner asks for silence while the dog continues to moan. 

General translation: “I don’t want to go to bed but I’m doing it anyway but I want you to know that I’m upset about this”. 

Understanding the dog is essential to develop a harmonious relationship. Sometimes humans say certain things but their body language conveys a different message. For dogs, words are not very useful. It is the dog’s voice that will convey a message to the owner. 

However, it is often easy to understand a dog’s state of mind before a single sound is made. As is the case for humans, the body does not lie. A dog can bark, whine or growl to try to communicate a message but the body often speaks first.  


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