Skip to main content

Why Do Dogs Bark? Understanding Barking Behavior and Body Language

Learn why your dog barks, plus more information on canine communication and body language.

Learn why your dog barks, plus more information on canine communication and body language.

Woof! What Do Dogs Communicate With a Bark?

When asking the question "Why do dogs bark?" you must then ask, "Why do people talk?" I'll use some anthropomorphic comparisons to help explain the reasons dogs bark. I have a friend who seems to think dogs bark just to annoy us. I really don't believe this is true; I can't imagine a dog being this disrespectful. When it comes to a dog barking, I believe it's the same as when a human talks. Humans speak, and so do dogs. The two have more in common than you would think:

  • Humans talk to express emotions; dogs bark to express emotions.
  • Humans talk to communicate with each other; dogs bark to communicate with each other.
  • Humans talk to dogs to tell them something; dogs bark at humans to tell them something.

We can watch our dogs playing and barking at another dog, and what they may be conveying is unknown to us. However, when they turn their vocal interactions to humans, we must learn to determine what our canine companion has to say.

Most Common Barks and What They Mean

Humans get loud; dogs bark. When a child gets loud, he is requesting something or telling you something. When asked why dogs bark, the answer is very similar. A loud child communicates that he is hungry, lonely, hurt, or needs to be changed by the act of becoming loud or crying. A barking dog communicates that he is ready for his meal, misses you, has an injury, or needs to be let outside—all by the act of barking.

Knowing the different barks your dog is using when trying to tell you something may take some time. After you have lived with your canine for a while, you will understand his vocalizations and personality much better.

Barking at "Nothing"

A dog may seem to be barking at absolutely nothing. We ponder: What is he doing and why? Be reassured that your dog is NOT barking for NO reason! He has a reason, and—to him—it is a good reason!

  • The first thing to recognize is if he is barking at things like a chair, a wall, or some non-visible thing; this kind of mystery barking can indicate he is having an emotional or physical problem and may need to be seen by your veterinarian.
  • But in most cases what we see as mystery barking occurs when your dog is hurt, hungry, wants to go for a stroll, or has heard or seen someone outside the home. Humans don't have the keen hearing and scent skills like that of a dog, and as such, we may not uncover the sounds and smells of danger that our dog will.
Barking takes too much energy for this old dog these days.

Barking takes too much energy for this old dog these days.

Barking Non-Stop

In some cases, the dog that seems to be barking non-stop may need a refresher course on proper doggy manners or a (non-pain-inflicting) bark collar. I recommend spray or scent collars versus electric shock collars; I am not fond of causing my pet pain when another method can be just as effective.

However, if you observe the non-stop barker for a few minutes (or even seconds), you will notice his snout is pointing in a constant direction. He is more than likely looking at something he really wants while barking at the same time. If you see his 'red bouncy dog toy' sitting just out of his reach—well, you have solved the barking mystery.

This is very common behavior for your dog to display, so it remains your job to learn and understand what it is that your K9 is attempting to convey. This non-stop barking is an indication that a need your dog has strong feelings about is not being quenched.

As mentioned before, you may need to give your dog a refresher course on his vocal manners, because you won't always be there to meet his need every minute of the day. This could cause your dog extreme anxiety if he's not given proper direction.

A little puppy back-talk to the elder! "Catch me if you can!"

A little puppy back-talk to the elder! "Catch me if you can!"

Backtalk Barking

When dealing with a dog that talks back—that is, one that barks or makes grumbling noises at you when you are telling him to do, or stop doing, something—it should be considered an act of defiance. It parallels when your 15-year-old talks back to you defiantly. Not all dogs misbehave in this manner, just like not all 15-year-olds talk back. If you have a situation where your dog barks at you when you direct him to sit, stay, or drop something from his teeth, you have a defiant K9 on your hands.

Once you recognize this behavior, you must use compliance training to reign him in and remind him that you are the top-dog and pack alpha. This does not mean you should get overaggressive or hit your dog. Like your dog's ancestor the wolf, you need to remind your dog by way of deference actions, respect, and pack allegiance as to how he must act.

Understanding Barking Behavior Is Important for Training

If you take the time to understand the reason behind your dog's barking behavior, you will have an easier task at revising it. Most barking behavior we assume to mean "Feed me," "I need water," or "Let me out." If the barking behavior your dog is displaying is caused by anxiety, fear, or dominance, you will need to consider retraining your dog in an attempt to prevent a good dog from going bad and taking his aggression to a whole other level.

What If I'm Afraid of Dogs?

Some people mistakenly think fear of dogs is good because it brings greater caution when dealing with them. In my opinion, this NEVER works. When we are scared or frightened of something, we are likely to run, scream, make furtive motions, and even react inappropriately. These things tend to trigger a dog's senses, causing the dog to move closer rather than keeping him away.

I understand that dogs can and do bite on occasion, but this is less often than you might think, and, by following a few simple rules, you can all but ensure that no one is going to get bit. Learning dog body language and behavior has to be the number one goal. The more we understand something, the less apt we are to be frightened of it; this includes dogs.



Observe Their Body Language

Many humans are scared of dogs because they don't know what the K9 might do next. Dogs communicate primarily by the use of body language. Basic knowledge of body language can help you understand what a dogs' true intentions are going to be.

Greeting a Dog: Dos and Don'ts

The Dos to remember when greeting a dog for the first time (or any time):

  • DO approach the dog in a calm manner. Quick or furtive motion in a dog's direction can scare them.
  • DO look at the dog's feet when you greet him. Dogs can feel threatened when looked in the eyes, causing an aggressive act to follow.
  • DO make certain the dog sees you coming before you get close. If you surprise a dog, he may nip out of fear.
  • DO make a fist with your hand and then allow the dog to sniff it. If a nip does occur, less damage to knuckles than to outstretched fingers.
  • DO avoid injured or sick looking dogs. Dogs that are limping, have bandages, dried blood or other signs of injury or sickness should never be approached by untrained people. Even professional handlers tread cautiously under these circumstances.

The Don'ts to remember when greeting a dog for the first time (or any time):

  • DON'T put your hand or fingers into a car window, crate screen, cage or box that a dog is confined in. The dog may be uneasy and nip at you because he has no way out or he feels the need to protect his environment.
  • DON'T approach a dog that is tied. This dog may bite out of fear or to protect his territory. He may also jump and cause injury to a small child or to himself.
  • DON'T approach a mother dog with her pups. It is a natural maternal drive that causes the female dog to protect her pups. Have no doubt, this bitch will bite.
  • DON'T put your face against a dog's face. This action may startle the dog or aggravate him causing him to snap, and this nip will be to your face.
  • DON'T sit on a dog's back (or let your kids) no matter how big the dog is. This may cause the dog pain which can cause even the sweetest of our canine friends to bite. Even if you have done this a hundred times in the past, it only takes one careless pain inflicting second to ruin the relationship between you and your long time K9 companion.

Canine Body Language by "Dogs for Defense K-9"

Thank you to Chris for an amazing reference guide to Canine Body Language.

Thank you to Chris for an amazing reference guide to Canine Body Language.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2010 India Arnold

Comments for "Why Do Dogs Bark"

SK on May 12, 2012:

Spray collars are no less harmful than static collars for bark control, especially those with citronella. Just because a substance is "natural" does not make it safe to spray into an animal's face. The chemicals in spray collars can be extremely irritating to your pet's eyes, nose, mouth and skin. Make sure to wash your pet's face and surrounding areas well after removing the bark collar.

sweetguide from River side on February 28, 2012:

Great Info. Thanks for sharing it

TENKAY from Philippines on February 07, 2012:

You are very much welcome.

I agree with you K9, less hostile and more enjoyable existence if only we see life like our beloved dogs.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on February 06, 2012:

TENKAY~ How clever your little shih tzu sounds! Canines are amazing creatures that humans often underestimate. I know one thing, if we thought more as they do, the world might well be a much less hostile place to reside. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful story, it brought me a much needed smile!



TENKAY from Philippines on February 06, 2012:

My shih tzu uses body language or shall we say sign language to talk to me. A tap on the knee means "lets go out" if she sees me in my sneakers or "may I taste what you are eating" if I'm dining or "put me on your lap" when I watch the tv. If she wants to go out biking, she scratch at the bike's wheels. To get carried, she stands on her hind legs. She usually do this when she is not comfortable with the surroundings. She only barks when she see strangers, animals and human alike.

Love your hub.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on December 29, 2011:

Derrick~ You need to let your new adult dog know you are an alpha to her. Here are a few pointers to help;

1. Growling is a big no-no! This is your dog telling you that you are second in command. You MUST take a leadership role at once. Tell her "no!" Make sure she knows this is in no way acceptable. Growling at the pack leader(you) is never to happen!

2. Make sure you are the first to go through ANY doorway, never dog first! If she speeds ahead, call her back and make her wait until you tell her it's okay. This works better with two people.

3. A dog with alpha issues is never allowed to sleep in the same bed with humans until deference is accomplished.

4. An independent dog is an emotionally stable dog. Over babying a dog can result in behavior issues. This is resolved by allowing her to explore and discover her new surroundings, but without aggressive behavior towards human leaders.

5. She needs to know that you are safe for the family and that they don't need her to protect them from you. So, provide her with strong calm assertiveness that shows her that you are capable of handling the job. Always make her look away first, never break eye contact before she does, this is a sign of weakness.

6. Finally, and MOST IMPORTANTLY: you should be the ONLY person to feed this dog for at least a month. She must find that she has to depend on you for her food. This is how to show her you are a valuable leader that she MUST submit to if she wants to feed. In dog politics, nothing is greater!

I hope these pointers help. Above all things, know that to be assertive has NOTHING to do with striking a dog. K9s don't think like humans, so you might want to learn a bit more about how they think in a pack situation (they are descendants of wolves after all).

I try not to do this, but here is a link to an article I put together on what k9s are, within the article there is a section called "The Wolf and Aggression Free Leadership" that will really help you understand your new pack member:

I wish you the best of luck with your new dog! Thanks for the great question and for sharing your story!



Derrick on December 29, 2011:

My fiancé just brought a 4 year old pappion, and seems to get along with her and the kids.i also have a great time with her but, when I stand to walk away or something she barks or when i have her near sometimes she growls.What should I do?

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on November 13, 2011:

witch~ Here is the link to the article on people foods that can kill your dog you asked about...

The actual title is:

"10 Common People Foods that Can Kill Your Dog"

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on October 17, 2011:

nancynurse~Anxiety is to be expected for both your sister and her barking k9. My best advice is to place some clothing that your brother-in-laws scent still remains on in an area where the dog sleeps. This may help soothe him as he can smell his late owner. Even humans find this comforting, I slept with my late spouses jacket for a full two weeks. It is no replacement, but it can easy the anxiety and bring rest. I bid you and your sister (and her heartbroken dog) peace. Keep each other close.



Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on October 14, 2011:

My sister has a dog that barks constantly .I really enjoyed your thoughts. I am pondering sharing your hub with her. He is 9 and she just lost her husband of cancer so he is older and going through anxiety . Not sure there is alot she can do right now. Thanks for sharing.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 12, 2011:

Suhail and my dog~Wow, could be a number of things. But, if I had to guess, it sounds like the youngster who barks at your dog wants to engage and be part of the pack. Two male dogs may rumble a bit with sparring and such, but (unless trained to do otherwise) will rarely do serious damage to the other. So possibly they just need to establish who's the alpha and who needs to wait his turn! I hope this helps.



Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on September 11, 2011:

My observation: Two dogs playing with each other never bark. They are too busy playing. However, at a local dog park, there is this one 8 months old pup who never stops barking at our 7 months old Kuvasz boy when the latter is playing with someone else. This 8 months old pup also seems to be always irritated at our boy. Is it because of his age, both are not neutered males, jealousy, or what?

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on August 20, 2011:

Dr Griz~ Thank you so much for the vote of confidence. Dog's communicate as clearly as we allow them to. In your vet environment, I bet these measures of understanding are in fact, very important safety concerns. Thank you for the support my Vet friend! Keep on Keeping our animal friends healthy!

You are the best Griz!


Dr. Griz on August 20, 2011:

Great hub! You present sound and practical advice in a clear way. Dogs are amazing creatures and they can tell you a great deal just by their body language and behavior. Having seen thousands of dogs in the exam room, I can attest that with very few exceptions, a dog can tell you a lot about what is on his mind with just a brief glance at him. They just communicate things in a different way. Using that information as a veterinarian, I could adjust my behavior to help put the dog at ease and reduce the chances of the dog owner, staff, or myself from being injured. Voted up.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on July 28, 2011:

vickiturner~ How funny! You're not the first person to say that. I enjoyed designing it specifically for the abstract--

Thank you for your comments, and I am glad you enjoyed the hub!



vickiturner on July 28, 2011:

Took me ages to work out that first picture in the article was a dog! Great article by the way.

clark farley on May 01, 2011:

Good Hub!

Totally agree with the 'communication through barking". With our first dog, Ola (GSD) you could tell what she was barking at by the tone of her bark, there would be a distinct difference bewteen the bark that meant 'hey there is a rabbit in the yard' and one that meant 'hey! there is a strange dog in the yard'.

The easiest bark (to identify) was the 'stranger approaching' bark, which was as much for the 'benefit' of the approaching person as it was for us (being warned). Big dog, ferocious sound.

But then, Ola was an exceptional dog!

She mastered the skill of barking 'out of the side of her mouth' which she did when it was necessary to bark late at night. (A muffled woof).

Our current dog, Una, is still learning the sounds of her new environment, so her barks are pretty much 'all volume' for now. And being a Chodsky Pes, her smaller size gives her a higher pitch than the larger Shepherd bark.

Fun topic.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 13, 2011:

Native Gardener~ If this behavior is something that you are finding pretty disturbing, you may want to have your K9 friend checked over by a vet. I have to think that You may be on to something with this jealousy concept, but know that if your dog senses an emotional deviation between what "was" and what "is," this barking may still be a form of protection. Our dogs will sense if we are feeling differently. Only you know how things "feel" when this is going on.

If all checks out for her with a vet, I feel this change in behavior requires a training adjustment.

I wish you the best of luck~

Native Gardener from Topanga Canyon, California on April 13, 2011:

The dog my dog "goes ballistic" at used to be a friend. She'd come by & we'd go for walks w/my other, older dog. Jealous? Maybe. But, all the other "friends" she gets along with. So she is not trying to protect me..

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on April 13, 2011:

Native Gardener~ Most likely she recognizes something about this dog that triggers her to bark. For the reason of ether aggression or wanting to get to know the other dog, a dog will go "ballistic." If you have confident control of your dog, and so does the neighbor, try introducing them and see if she just wants to hang out. If you sense a fight is in the making, just walk away. Possibly your dog feels some instinctual need to protect you from this other dog. Dogs have really good intuition.

You can always re-train your dog to not conduct such behavior, but this takes dedication and time.

Hope this helps,


Native Gardener from Topanga Canyon, California on April 13, 2011:

Can U tell me why my dog barks at 1 certain dog & not the others in neighborhood that come to visit? She doesn't just bark, she goes ballistic. Thank U.

ekenzy on February 24, 2011:

dogs and communication?? wow!! i will like to know. nice hub.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on February 11, 2011:

Answersinwriting~Thank you for your comments. I do respect the k9 world and it is very nice of you to make mention of this. I have so much fun researching and learning all I can about dogs. HubPages has been a God-send for this need. I appreciate that you chose to read here today.


Answersinwriting on February 11, 2011:

Great article! You have so much respect for these amazing animals. It is truly great to see. Thank you for all the work you put into this. Nice job.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on February 10, 2011:

Katharella~Thank you so much for your comments and for sharing your experiences with your Rottie (what wonderful dogs they are). We have something in common; my Golden lets me know when he is going to get sick as well. He will have a "certain" look on his face and give me a hard stare, then run to the back door to be let out. He will be struggling to hold things in, but he will not (so far) make a mess in the house. It's a good thing too, because I have little to no tolerance for these kind of things, potentially making for a double mess to clean up. I think it helps to be in tune with your dog, the more we understand what they are trying to say, the closer our bonds shall become. I sure appreciate you stopping by for a read!


Katharella from Lost in America on February 10, 2011:

Pcunix, you're everywhere I go today LOL! Maybe that dog is barking at your colorful hair "hey where can I get that do?" :)

K9, Yes! My dog, (A Rottie) I've learned her, when's and why barks! People really don't think about this, but they ARE indeed telling us things. My dog will bark directly to my face if she wants something specific! When I look at her, she will look where she wants me to go. If I say "Ok, take me", she will! She's even learned that "chicken comes from the fridge, and goes to the George Foreman" LOL! Yep! When she wants cooked chicken, she tells me so! And if she wants Cheese (She looks at the fridge and sniffs it!) When one might think she's barking just to be heard, that could be "her conversation" so I talk to her. She'll then lay down and snooze a bit. I live near a railroad track, and it's her perfect opportunity to "SING" yes, I've read that sirens and trains make them howl. It's NOT howling, it's "singing" much like a human would do with a song! When I hear the train, I'll tell her "sing baby you sing sooo pretty" and she stops, looks at me, then there she goes singing until the train passes! Yesterday she took a sneak out of the back yard and I had to go get her. When we got inside I said "There is no treat for you today." She laid down, with her head on her feet, puppy eyes up at me until I said "NO, you scare mommie when you go out of the yard" and she laid down and went to sleep! She knew no play, no treat, so she'd best be good. So this morning I told her "Do your business then you get a treat if you are good girl"... she did just as I asked. And she got cheese! :) I think people don't just talk to their dogs enough, I believe they have a larger vocabulary than what is thought.. 40 words or something. She understands a full conversation. She knows her Vets name. She knows when to let me know she's not feeling well. She also knows the names of her toys. She knows my shoes are not toys, she has a basket and her toys are there. She'll fumble around until she finds her favorite "sun/moon" a baby's toy my friend had given me. I told her she cannot chew it up or it'll be gone! It's now about 6 years old and the arms are gone, but "sun/moon" is still a part of play and the washing machine! :) Great hub I wish I had of thought of it! LOL! :) Thanks for the read!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on November 29, 2010:

blondey~ Hey, thanks for the comments. I am glad you are looking into getting a dog of your own, they are very comforting and loyal beasts. Using good sense when around a strange dog is a good idea, so a little caution is truly recommended, but, once you have given a dog your trust and the dog has given you his, the relationship becomes something very special. If I can answer any questions for you about dogs, feel free to contact me here on HubPages! I wish you the best of luck in your doggy endeavors!


Blondey on November 29, 2010:

Hi K9!!

I finally found this hub! For some reason, I didn't notice it right away! :(

Anyway, I'm so glad you wrote it :) It definitely gives me a start to understanding dogs better.

I still don't like the idea of the possiblity of getting bit, as I think the "idea" scares me more than the pain. Just like bees, I'm the same cause they're so buzzzzzzzy and might go in your ear, know what I mean?

It must be a slight phobia? My dad seemed to instill in me a fear of dogs, talking about being a postal worker and mailman. So....

We never had a dog. And I never knew anything about them except that our neighborhood dogs like the irish setter and golden retriever were so friendly that I wanted one of them.

But I would really like to have a "gentle" dog because I've learned they are man's best friend for real, in that they hang out w/ you and you know, you can walk them and stuff which is like more fun that a cat!!

So,,,I also need to learn as much as possible about dogs too, and more of your hubs on them, so I can interact more and hopefully someone who owns one will show me more.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on October 26, 2010:

Micky~ Thank you for sharing the Dog hub with your friends. I am so pleased that you found the time to make it by for a read. You always brighten my day.


Micky Dee on October 26, 2010:

I always jump those buttons and I don't have a dog. I do love dogs. My friends who have dogs should have your hubs. They are getting them. God bless!

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on October 02, 2010:

Jy3502~Thank you for the wonderful comments. It is always nice to get a pat on the back! Go Doggies!


John Young from Florence, South Carolina on October 02, 2010:

A very well written and illustrated piece of work K9. Your professionalism really shines through. I voted this up

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 28, 2010:

Jane@CM~ Awww,I feel sad for the dog behind you. I hope its owners get more involved with the little guy. Early interaction is so important for 'manning' our k9 friends. Thank you so much for the comments and for the read.

PDH~ Thank you for stopping by Maita. I bet you're correct, your dog friend think you look great in red and he barks at you in an attempt to let you know! Very fun.


Jane@CM on September 28, 2010:

This is a great, informative hub. Our dog didn't "learn" to bark until she was 2 years old & rarely barks now. She does the low growl thing.

The doggy behind barks all day long - left alone outside. I think she is sad & scared (still a pup).

prettydarkhorse from US on September 25, 2010:

When I wear red, dog barks at me, maybe it is saying, Hi, you look good in red, smiles, I love talking to animals, specially horses and dogs, Nice one, Maita

kgnature from North Carolina on September 23, 2010:

I have three little chihuahuas that seem to want to keep me informed about neighborhood happenings. They bark when a new car comes down the road (thank goodness we don't see many new cars) and when the mailman comes, and they have a bark-fest on trash day. I'm never surprised by a stranger at the door. They throw back their little heads and sing along with sirens. I have one that barks in his sleep. They live indoors most of the time and their barking doesn't bother me, but sometimes I wonder if I should let them bark so much.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 21, 2010:

Healing touch~Thank you for the comments. Glad you found something you could use within the work. I hope it helps even one person understand their dog a bit better. Always grateful you stop by!


Laura Arne from Minnetonka, MN on September 21, 2010:


Great information and great job on how you put it together. Thanks, I really needed that info. I voted up and useful and shared it.

India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 21, 2010:

MT~ So happy you stopped over to read about our barking dogs. A refresher course is always a good idea when speaking a second language, and K9 is truly its own language! Thank you for the vote and so much more!


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 21, 2010:

erthfrend~ I couldn't agree with you more. Co-existing is the right frame of mind when it comes to dogs or pets of any kind. I love that you used the word relationship to describe the feelilngs we humans have for dogs. You hit it right on the nose!


India Arnold (author) from Northern, California on September 21, 2010:

pcunix~Thanks for the read. You are right, it sounds as if the dog in question may well be reacting to a sound made by the cart. A Dogs hearing is broader than human hearing - they hear sounds of a higher pitch and lower pitch than we do. Whatever it is about the cart that is bothering him, he feels very strongly about it! Thank you for the comments my friend.


Linda Rogers from Minnesota on September 21, 2010:

Hi K9-Excellent information, even for us doggy owners. It's always good to read up on some of these dog behaviors so we don't hurt our relationship with them. UP AWESOME USEFUL

erthfrend from Florida on September 21, 2010:

Excellent article! These tips are the key for people and their dogs to achieve a happy and successful life together. Understanding your dog can make a world of difference in creating an amazing bond and relationship together.

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on September 21, 2010:

We have a dog in our neighborhood who goes into a frenzy when I drive by in my golf cart.

It's not cars or golf carts that bother him - he doesn't react to others. It's not me, I can walk by on foot and he's fine.

It's not the cart per se either because his owner has walked him down to our house and he's calm and will even hop into the cart.

We think it must be a specific noise the cart makes while moving but why it upsets him so much, we have no idea.