How Dogs Use Their Voices to Communicate

Dogs can speak volumes with their body language.

Their expressive eyes can entice us to play with them, convey their sympathy, or ask for just “one teeny-weeny little taste” of that delectable meal you’re trying to eat.

A wagging tail can convey, “Am I glad to see you!” or “Back off!” depending on how the dog holds her tail and the way she wags it. And who doesn’t recognize a dog on her back with a softly wagging tail as a dog that’s looking for a belly rub?

But dogs can’t talk to people. Or can they? Between the barks, growls, howls and groans, your dog may be trying to tell you more than you realize.


Consider barks for a minute. A bark is not a bark is not a bark. Chances are that even if you’re in a different room from your dog and she starts to bark, you know by the bark if someone is at the door, if there’s a bird or animal in your backyard, or if she just needs to go outside.

There are tonal differences to barks. Almost instinctively, you recognize the difference between a playful bark and a warning bark. If you listen closely, you may even realize there’s a difference between your dog’s “human intruder” bark and “unknown animal intruder” bark. Other dogs certainly know the difference, and you can learn to recognize the difference as well. This takes time to just get to know your dog’s voice.


Growls are used in a variety of situations. Although most people think of a growl as an indicator to leave the dog alone, there are different growls. If you are playing a gentle game of tug-of-war with your dog or a good-natured game of keep away, you may hear your dog growl as she plays with you. She’s not telling you to leave her alone, she’s just having fun and “play growling”, similar to the deep voice a father might take on when he’s playing “monster” with his child.

A serious growl will be lower and sounds more menacing. The dog will also pull back her lips and bare her teeth. That’s a growl to be respected and one that’s most likely to come from a dog you don’t know. If your dog growls seriously like that at you, there’s a problem either with her physically or in her socialization and training; get professional help as soon as possible.

dog howling



Then there are the howls. These, too, can sound different and occur for different reasons. A dog can howl when she’s alone to try to find the rest of her pack (either canine or human). A dog may join in when she hears other dogs howling. Or she may howl to sing along with others who are singing. She may even howl along with sirens.

Sighing and Moaning

Dogs will also sigh or moan. These sounds can have multiple meanings as well. If you dog moans as you scratch her tummy, she’s most likely telling you, “Oh, man, you know just the right spot! That feels so, so good.”

She may also sigh to indicate her pleasure with what you’re doing, such as when you’re petting her. Or she may sigh in resignation: “You sure you don’t want to go for a walk now? Really? You want to watch TV instead? Oh, well.”

Sighs and groans may also be indications of pain. If they are frequent or seem to come out of the blue, take your dog to the vet for a once-over to make sure everything is okay.

Dogs Do Talk, Just Not With Words

Dogs do communicate with their humans verbally.

Take the time to learn your dog’s different voices, and the meaning behind those voices, so you can better understand her. If you learn your dog’s voices and pay attention to her body language, you may find she has more to say than you ever dreamed.

Meet the Author: Pam Hair

Pam Hair is a pet industry copywriter with Fuzzy Friends Writer, where she combines her three passions: a love of animals, a strong desire to help other people, and the joy of writing. She has been a pet parent over the years to dogs, cats, and a variety of rodents. Currently she and her husband share their home with two guinea pigs.

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