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 We may not be able to always tell why a dog is barking, but there are some basic barking patterns that we can use to give some meaning to the barking.

1. Continuous rapid barking, midrange pitch: “Call the pack! There is a potential problem! Someone is coming into our territory!” Continuous barking, but a bit slower and pitched lower: “The intruder [or danger] is very close. Get ready to defend yourself!”
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2. Barking in rapid strings of three or four with pauses in between, midrange pitch: “I suspect that there may be a problem or an intruder near our territory. I think that the leader of the pack should look into it.”¹  Your dog may also bark at people, including you, because he is feeling territorial. If he barks along a fence line, at the door or window, or when standing over his food dish, he is probably saying "stay away." While some barking -- for instance, to let you know there is someone at the door -- is acceptable and maybe even appreciated, aggressive barking at people walking down the sidewalk or at you when you enter the room while he's eating, needs to be addressed.²

3. Prolonged or incessant barking, with moderate to long intervals between each utterance: “Is there anybody there? I’m lonely and need companionship.” This is most often the response to confinement or being left alone for long periods of time.¹  One reason dogs bark is because they feel anxious. If they are barking at a stranger, it may be because they are nervous or worried. If your dog barks at people out of anxiety, get him out more, take him for frequent walks so he can get used to being around people he doesn't know. It will take some patience, but he will learn that there is no reason to be worried when he sees a stranger.²

 btgreeting 52774. One or two sharp short barks, midrange pitch: “Hello there!” This is the most typical greeting sound.¹ Barking isn't always negative. If your dog barks while wagging his tail when you arrive home, or he runs up to you, drops a toy and barks, he is happy to see you and ready to play. As long as this barking doesn't escalate into spins, running rampages through the house and other uncontrollable behavior, you should consider it a compliment. If he jumps on you when he greets you, you may want to discourage this. Even if you don't mind, it is a bad habit that can cause problems if he decides to greet others, particularly children or the elderly, this way.²

5. Single sharp short bark, lower midrange pitch: “Stop that!” This is often given by a mother dog when disciplining her puppies, but may also indicate annoyance in any dog, such as when disturbed from sleep or if hair is pulled during grooming and so forth.

6. Single sharp short bark, higher midrange: “What’s this?” or “Huh?” This is a startled or surprised sound. If it is repeated two or three times its meaning changes to “Come look at this!” alerting the pack to a novel event. This same type of bark, but not quite as short and sharp, is used to mean “Come here!”

Many dogs will use this kind of bark at the door to indicate that they want to go out. Lowering the pitch to a relaxed midrange means “Terrific!” or some other similar expletive, such as “Oh, great!”  Other dogs give this same bark when given their food dish.¹ Because barking is one of the few ways your dog has to communicate with you, he may be using his voice to let you know he needs to go outside or he's hungry or thirsty. If he comes to you and barks, or goes to the door or his food dish and barks, he is probably trying to let you know he needs something. If you acknowledge him and give him what he needs, he will soon learn to reliably repeat this behavior, which is very convenient, particularly when he has to go outside.²

7. Single yelp or very short high-pitched bark: “Ouch!” This is in response to a sudden, unexpected pain.

8. Series of yelps: “I’m hurting!” “I’m really scared” This is in response to severe fear and pain.


9. Stutter-bark, midrange pitch: If a dog’s bark were spelled “ruff,” the stutter-bark would be spelled “ar-ruff.” It means “Let’s play!” and is used to initiate playing behavior.

10. Rising bark: This is a bit hard to describe, although once you’ve heard it, it is unmistakable. It is usually a series of barks, each of which starts in the middle range but rises sharply in pitch – almost a bark-yelp, though not quite that high. It is a play bark, used during rough-and- tumble games, that shows excitement and translates as “This is fun!”¹