Our dogs speak in a variety of voices. Some of the sounds they make are breed-specific, while others are more universally expressed. With little effort, we all learn to distinguish the vocalizations our dogs make, and we can generally interpret their desire or intention simply by listening.

The ability to distinguish each voice in a multiple dog household is rather easy to achieve too – there’s always a troublemaker in the pack and there’s always a tattletale!

When my dogs are in the yard together, they tend not to vocalize much. They enjoy chasing one another around the perimeter, and they like to play keep-away with fallen tree branches. Most especially, they appreciate every opportunity to terrorize the errant squirrel, which they do with particular relish.

Outdoor playtime is usually spent in relative quiet, with nary a mild growl exchanged as the dogs play tug of war with a favorite stick. But the idyllic scene of playful puppies can end abruptly. A passerby or a loud noise can break the dogs’ silence and lead to a serenade of barking that is sure to bring the crew back inside for a timeout.

The barking is usually mild, as when they’re saying, “Hello” to the joggers on the bike path across the street. At other times, it’s more defensive, an escalating reaction to the dogs that walk the same path each day. The pitch and the speed of the barking let me know which kind of visitor we have at the moment. 

A Beagle tells it like it is. © Arenacreative/Dreamstime

Occasionally, someone decides to walk especially close to the property line and when this happens, the dogs have more of an alarm to their voice. I can always tell when this is happening by the absolute sense of urgency in that sound. I may not be able to see anyone, but I know they’re there and being told to move along.

My oldest bitch is the reactive sort, as prone to barking out of fear as from anything else. When a soccer ball mysteriously appeared in the yard one morning, I heard about it! Upon discovering the orb lying motionless on the ground, she immediately began making a rapid series of deep-throated “woof” sounds. This vocalization always means that a UFO has landed. “Get here quickly and bring your camera!” is the complete interpretation.

Not all of the barking is in response to some kind of stimuli, however. When they’ve run out of games to play, squirrels to chase and visitors to announce, their voices can take on a melancholy tone. When I hear this rather vacant bark, I know they’ve become bored with one another and are in need of some human interaction. With their minds and bodies engaged through structured exercises or a serious game of fetch, there’s no time for boredom and the only barks they produce are the sounds that say, “Throw it again!”

Watching dogs at play is an idyllic scene that every dog lover enjoys. Listening to our dogs, however, can be every bit as rewarding and just as informative too.