Everyone knows that dogs use barking to communicate. The message conveyed, though, can be just as intricate as any spoken words. Dogs may bark for any reason under the sun and, often, a barking dog simply may be talkative and bored. A barking dog also may be communicating hunger, pain, fear or a desire to play, and with a practiced ear, you can learn to tell the difference.
Alarm barks are short, staccato barks a dog uses to communicate an important event or happening to his pack members. Used primarily to call a person's or another dog's attention to what's going on, a dog alarm barking will continue to bark until the situation is resolved to his satisfaction. Common events triggering alarm barking are knocks on the door, a car pulling in the driveway or an unknown person walking down the sidewalk.
Designed to convey a strong "keep back" message, warning barks are low, deep barks intermixed with a throaty growl or snarl. A dog giving a warning back often will slick his ears back and show his teeth. A warning back doesn't necessarily mean the dog is aggressive, although that's possible. The pup in question may be extremely fearful, protecting a litter of puppies or undersocialized.
Play barks tend to be short, high-pitched yipes coming from a tail-wagging, play bowing or running dog. Any situation your dog finds terribly exciting can incite a round of play barking even if other dogs aren't around. Playing ball, chasing another dog, running full-tilt through a field or playing tug o' war are situations in which play barking is common.
Communication barks vary dog to dog. Common forms include short, quiet "woofs," "rooing," and straight up barking. Communication barks sound different than alarm or warning barks, but they can be a bit difficult to distinguish. A dog may employ communication barks when he's hungry, needs to go outside, lost a toy in a room with a closed door or if he wants to go for a walk.
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