Do Dogs Understand Each Other When They Bark?

Barking is one of the ways dogs vocalize and express their emotional state, be it anger, excitement, fear, or loneliness.

They’ll also bark when greeting other dogs, marking their territory, defending themselves, and for various other reasons.

But do dogs actually understand each other when they bark? Let’s find out…

Do Dogs Understand Each Other’s Barks?

Dogs do understand each other when they bark.

Different barks may mean different things depending on the tone, frequency and duration the dog uses when barking.

So it is helpful for humans to learn what each bark signifies to understand what their dogs are trying to communicate. 

This article will explain how dogs use barking to communicate. We will look at the studies conducted to prove that dogs do comprehend each other’s bark and much more!

NOTE – You might also be interested to read about why dogs bark at doorbells.

The Science of Canine Barking

Barking among dogs was initially thought to lack context. Humans assumed that barking didn’t carry much meaning besides showing excitement and aggression in response to other dogs barking.

It is believed that dogs’ barks are a consequence of domestication since their wild relatives, the wolves, rarely bark.

As a matter of fact, barking constitutes barely 3% of a wolf’s vocalization.

In recent years, however, experts have established that there’s more to barking than we might assume. Research shows that not all dog barks are the same.

It has been established that dogs have ‘adjustable’ vocal tracts which they can use to alter their voices to generate a range of sounds.

These sounds could represent different meanings that other dogs understand and potentially also to humans.

Most dog owners will agree that their dogs have different barks and use them at other times, so they might bark differently when the doorbell rings than when they are playing with another dog.

In a study, scientists recorded a dog when they were growling over food and at an approaching stranger.

They played the two recordings to a different dog moving towards a juicy bone. The dog was more reluctant to approach the bone when they heard the food growl than the stranger growl.

A second experiment recorded dogs barking alone and when a stranger approached. They then played these recordings to a different set of dogs.

These dogs showed alertness when the ‘stranger barks’ recording was played. However, they still responded similarly when the sequence was reversed.

These studies prove that dogs can differentiate between different kinds of barks.

STOP – Before you carry on reading. You might find this short video interesting.

World-renowned dog expert Alexandra Horowitz shares more fascinating facts about dogs and their barking.

Just click to start playing:



Related Post: Do Dogs Find Other Dogs Attractive?

How To Tell the Meaning of Dog’s Barks

Dogs use barking in various tones, repetition, and duration levels to pass specific messages to one another and humans.

They can also bark to reinforce communication by other means, like body language.

To understand them, it is, thus, essential to study your dog’s body language and listen to the variations in their barking.

1. The Pitch of the Barking

Pitch refers to how high or low the sound produced is. Typically, the higher the pitch of the bark, the happier the dog.

Your pooch is most likely expressing that they are not feeling threatened when making high-pitch barks. That they are excited, and it is safe to approach them.

Low-pitched barks, on the other hand, communicate the opposite. When your dog barks deeply, they indicate feeling threatened or angry and might become aggressive.

But how exactly do dogs use the law of pitch? Scientifically, the size of an object influences the pitch of the sound it produces. Small objects produce high-pitched sounds when hit and vice versa.

Psychology says that animals use the same analogy to suggest their position even when it may not represent their physical reality.

For instance, regardless of your pooch’s size, when they feel threatened, they’ll make a low growl suggesting that they are larger and dangerous and that other dogs or people should stay away from their territory.

On the other hand, they will emit higher-pitched barking to imply that they are smaller and harmless and that it is safe to approach them.

Related: Do Dogs Think in Barks or Words?

2. Frequency of the Barks

The frequency of the barks may indicate the level of excitement or urgency of the situation.

If your dog is repeatedly barking at a fast pace, they are expressing that the situation is urgent and needs immediate attention.

Occasional barks that are not repetitive generally show lower enthusiasm or urgency.

3. Duration of the Barking

The length of the barks typically indicates the dedication to the dog’s next course of action.

If your pooch barks for a longer duration, they are possibly making a conscious decision about the action they’re planning.

For example, if your dog faces what they perceive as a threat, they may growl and bark for a long time, suggesting that they’re standing their ground and not backing down.

When the barks are short and held briefly, it may infer that the dog is fearful and unsure whether it can successfully tackle the threat.

Here’s a table that summarizes the most common types of dog barks.

Type of Bark Meaning
Rapid, mid-range pitched Regular alarm bark
Rapid, continual, slower, and low-pitched A looming threat, prepare for defense
Rapid, three or four barks with breaks in between, mid-range pitched Calling for attention to something that’s not yet established as a threat
High-pitched stutter barks The dog wants to play
Rising bark The dog is having fun
An extended string of solitary barks with pauses in between The dog is lonely
Solitary, short bark, high-pitched The dog is startled or amazed
Single or two, sharp, fast, high-pitched Classic dog greeting
Solitary, short, sharp, low-pitched Annoyance, anger

Related: Can Dogs Have Tourette’s Syndrome?

Final Notes On Dogs Understanding Each Other’s Barks

Vocalization is one-way dogs communicate with each other and with humans.

Barking is the most common form of canine vocalization. Depending on the situation, dogs’ barks vary in pitch, length, and frequency.

They carry different meanings which other dogs can decipher and understand to some degree (depending on the individual dogs).

Humans can learn to understand dog barking, especially when appropriate observing body language cues along with the barks.

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