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Bark! Who Goes There?

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.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Flavia May 14, 2012 at 1:59 AM

    I should have wriettn this long ago. Randy took a vicious, fear filled dog who had undoubtedly been abused, and taught us patience. This dog, Simpson, a Black Mouth Curr, known for aggression, was rescued at about 3 months. After finding homes and having him returned, we decided to keep him. I cannot tell you how mean and territorial he was. To the point of attacking us if we came too close. My husband insisted that he had potential. But it was so clear, this dog was too vicious to be a pet. Then we called Randy. Randy explained fear aggression’. He taught us to work with Simpson not against him. And each night as this 85 lb puppy’ curls up against me, I am thankful that I listened to my husband who had faith in Simpson’s potential. But more so, I am so grateful for Randy. What made me call his number? I don’t know. But I’m glad I did. Simpson is well behaved, smart, loving and loyal. A bit excited when friends come over and maybe a little protective. But he is home. Where he belongs. Thanks to Wipe Your Paws and Randy.

  • Nurul May 16, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    Having to listen to somneoe else’s dog bark for hours on end is really annoying. I’d recommend that you be a good neighbor and keep them inside when you’re not home. If they are destructive or not housebroken, use a large dog cage.Depending on where you live, you can receive a fine for violating noise ordinances. If your dogs do not have food, water and shelter, you could have them seized by animal cruelty officers. It’s kinder to have them surgically debarked by a vet than to use shock collars or punishment. The bigger problem is that your dogs may be injured or poisoned by your frustrated neighbors.

  • Mary Beth McManus October 21, 2013 at 4:58 AM

    I grew up in Pennsylvania with a beagle that my father used for hunting. The first time my father took me along, I was amazed how my father knew what type of game was being trailed. His most prized dog, Cap, had a different “voice” for deer, rabbit, etc., very apparent and unique. Being a girl, I was only invited to tag along several times, that honor was given to my brother every season. As luck would have it, my father never caught anything when I was along…perhaps a better thing for a young sensitive girl. But I am very grateful to have experienced Cap giving chase and teaching me his working language.

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