While I firmly believe that we all anthropomorphize our dogs more than we should, I’m also one of the biggest offenders. For lack of a better word, I pride myself on my ability to identify what my dog’s different barks mean. When he has a mean case of the zoomies and barks in rapid succession, he usually has to go out. When he rests his head on the arm of the couch and barks softly, it means he wants to cuddle.
But am I—and the millions of other pet owners who think the same way—actually interpreting our dogs’ barks correctly, or we just using context clues and confirmation bias to attribute desires that aren’t there? In an interview with Southern Living, Dr. Shadi Ireifej, founder of telehealth veterinary service Vettriage, dove into the topic to provide some insights on our dogs’ vocal habits.
For a baseline, Dr. Ireifej explained that barking is generally broken into:
- Feeling Threatened
- Reciprocating another dogs’ bark
To identify what each bark means (beyond our best guesses), Dr. Ireifej explained that owners should take note of other physical characteristics. If a dog’s ears are pinned back, their hair is raised and they’re showing teeth, it’s either aggression, anxiety or stress. On the other hand, bowing, pawing, nudging and tail-wagging indicate a playful, welcoming mood.
From there, Dr. Ireifej the barking and behaviors must be contextualized. If the dog’s owner is present and the dog is on his property, it’s either territorial, welcoming or alerting. When approaching another pack of dogs, it can indicate aggression, anxiety or submission. If the dog’s running around and playing, it means they want to engage in playtime.
Dr. Ireijej also explained that a dog barks for two reasons: historic or current. If your dog had a negative encounter in the past and a similar situation is arising, it will bark out of memory; however, dogs can also bark just because they’re in the moment.
There are also a variety of factors of why dogs bark at other dogs, such as the other pup’s facial features, scent, pack status, level of excitement or previous memories, traumas and interaction.
While there are no surefire ways to correctly identify why your dog’s barking, owners can mix a little bit of intuition with interpreting the aforementioned signs to become a master of their dog’s language.