The Power of “Woof”

I didn’t know what it was at first. A large cat? A fox? The grey-brownish animal was trotting just outside the fence, looking inward toward the lambs, as Will and I stood looking at the flock in the high pasture one morning last week. As it came closer, I realized it was a coyote, a frequent visitor to the outskirts of the farm, but a rare sight in broad daylight, so close to my sheep.

Granted the lambs were no longer newborns, and granted some of the older ewes were capable of smashing a small canid into the dirt like bugs, but still, a coyote/lamb omelete is not something a shepherd wants to see. My guard dog long gone, I reflexively barked myself. (Will hadn’t noticed the coyote at that point, he was so focused on the sheep.) BARK BARK BARK, I said, trying to sound low and growly and oh-so-intimidating. The coyote stopped and looked at me for a moment, and continued its purposeful trotting along the fence. I changed tactics. WOOF WOOF WOOF I bellowed, and before the second note had left my mouth the predator pivoted and ran for the hills, its beautiful tail streaming high above the grasses.

It was the coyotes themselves who taught me to say WOOF.  Last year after Tulip had died a pack of them was rallying just yards from the barn and the damp, delicate lambs within it. We heard them yip-howling, sounding like happy banshees risen from the graveyard, and we dashed down the stairs and ran out onto the front lawn. In the past we would have run out with Tulip, who would  have been barking loud and low long before we got to the bottom of the stairs. Out she’d go on her tie out, where she’d roar out into the blackness, her voice echoing back from the hills beyond, and the coyotes would immediately go silent. One of us would stand there with her until long after, listening to the night, sleepy but thankful for her deep barks and her huge white presence.

But with Tulip buried practically under our feet, on the very spot she would stand and broadcast her presence, we were on our own. BARK BARK BARK we yelled, and the coyote chorus continued. For reasons I can’t explain, I jazz riffed my way from BARK BARK BARK to WOOF WOOF WOOF, and the cacophony immediately stopped. Nothing. Silence. I tried it again a few nights later, and again, BARK had no effect, while WOOF was a game stopper.

I told a friend who has two Great Pyrenees my story a few weeks later, bellowing out my BARK and my WOOF  at her home in the country as best I could to illustrate. My friend and her two dogs listened to my story . . . until I got to WOOF WOOF WOOF, and you guessed it, her 2 dogs immediately began to bark. Not only that, but each dog ran to a different area on the property where they typically bark at intruding animals (especially coyotes). One went left, one went right, and they each raised their beautiful white muzzles to the sky and barked like a stereo symphony. Their barks were loud and serious… they had to be loud for us to hear them, because my friend and I were laughing so hard, big-eyed and amazed, that we would have drowned out anything less than a full operatic performance.

Barking is such a huge topic, and surprisingly little studied for such an important behavior of the animals we live with most closely. We know that wolves bark, but rarely, and most often when they are adolescents. The message appears to be directed to two parties: one to the intruder (I see you!) and another to the pack itself (911: I need some assistance here!). Domestic dogs are veritable Chatty Cathy’s compared to wolves, which makes sense if you think of dogs as wolves who never grew up (called paedomorphic or neotonous). Surely we have also selected for barking; in many places in the world the primary purpose of  dogs is to be an early warning system for predators.

Barking itself is controversial (isn’t everything?). Some argue that barks lack any communicative value at all (these could not be people who own dogs, could they?), while others argue that barks vary by context and can be accurately used at minimum to assess the internal emotions of a dog, and at most to gain information about the environment (ie, what kind of predator is approaching?). For a great review of this literature, see Sophia Yin’s article in the Journal of Comparative Psychology (2002, Vol. 116, No. 2), “A New Perspective on Barking in Dogs.” Fedderson-Peterson, a researcher in Germany, agrees with Yin that barks can convey a tremendous amount of information. All (most?) agree that low, noisy barks  correlate with offensive & defensive threats (following the “universal principles of vocalizations” described by Morton many decades ago, with  lower pitched sounds correlating with an animal on offensive or about to be aggressive), while high-pitched, more harmonic barks correlate with fear or play or mild frustration.

So how does that fit with WOOF versus BARK? When I repeat the words and listen to myself, WOOF sounds a lot lower. It’s easier for me to say ‘woof’ in a low, deep voice than it is to say ‘bark.’ Could that be the reason it had more impact on the coyotes? Certainly, the words we use to symbolize canine vocalizations vary greatly, depending on the language. According to Wikipedia, people in Albania say “ham ham” while people in Iceland say “voff voff” to label a dog’s ‘bark.’ I find it interesting that for English, the article listed “woof,” “ruff” and “arf” for large dogs, and “yip,” and “yap” for small ones. Say those to yourself, and if you’re like me, you’ll say ‘woof a lot lower than you’ll say ‘yip.’ Larger animals inherently make lower sounds, which is believed to be one of the reasons that a deep, low bark is perceived as more threatening…. “I am BIG and I’m coming to get you…”

And here’s the beauty of the internet: This blog has about 16,000 readers now, from all over the world. So let’s hear it: what word do people use for “bark” in your native language?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Hope, at 12 weeks now, is doing beautifully on so many things. We’ve made huge strides on coming on when called (best reinforcement is running away from him, much better even than pieces of dried beef!), crate training, house training, sit and down on cue, puppy pauses, sitting down instead of chasing the cat (this one will take awhile!), and walking on leash. He is just as willing and biddable as his parents and the 7 older siblings I was able to hear all about (2 different litters, 3 yrs and 1 year of age). Of course, none of this is close to “done”.. he is only 12 weeks after all!

Hope and Will have more good moments than bad. They wrestle play and “tooth fence” in the house, and Will has lost his look of abject misery that he greeted with me every morning for a few days. Here they are now–look carefully and you’ll see the tiny, curved shark-like teeth in Hope’s open mouth. Last week he lept up and bit me on my . . . well, let’s just say I was facing forward, he jumped up above my waist, and it was quite a surprise. Good thing he’s learning bite inhibition from me and Willie both.


  1. says

    What a coincidence! I just got Turid Rugaas’ book entitled “Barking The Sound Of a Language. Her definition of the “Woof” is a deep warning bark meaning: “get away, the enemy is coming.” If her interpretation is on point perhaps the coyote thought you were on it’s team warning him about a bear somewhere in the distance… imagine that! Either way, it worked! Interesting. I’m going out to go woof at the dogs.

  2. Kim M says

    Very interesting topic today and very odd that I would feel compelled to respond. I who have chosen to share the last 20 years of my life with little African barkless dogs. But one of the things I find so interesting about basenjis is not so much that they don’t normally bark, but more the *when* of their vocalizations. They howl when I leave them in the car (cool mornings/open doors, etc) at an agility match. I’ll walk off and about 3 minutes later, they start to howl. I think to locate me. The howling elicits interesting responses from other dog people. Many don’t realize that it is indeed dogs (albeit basenjis) making that ruckus; the initial reaction tends to be coyotes? maybe. I don’t know, it just sounds like my badsenjis.

    And when dad comes home they will often yodel, which is what basenjis do when they are happy. A delightful noise that varies greatly from individual to individual. (Although perhaps the basenji yodelling is a bit like bagpipes and the music is in the ear of the beholder?) My oldest basenji, now on the other side of 13 and hard of hearing, has always been very vocal and is willing to ooo-oooh on our regular visits to nursing homes when asked. He is also the first of my crew to initate locating howls and the first to yodel when dad gets home. He’s just so happy when the pack is back together! Basenji #2 (a tri color “We call this color try-ing in basenjis”) has a beautiful melodious baritone yodel. He has been known to yodel at meal time. Happiness is overwhelming when his bowl is full. Basenji #3 is very stingy with her yodels and hardly ever makes that noise. But when she does it is a deep, quiet gravelly yodel. Strange coming from such a feminine little girl. She is very attacted to me, but again, her rare yodels are for when dad gets home, but only sometimes.

    Now, in all fairness, dad tends to make a bigger ado about walking through the door than I do, so the excitement level may have more to do with that than with *who* comes home. And I usually come home before dad, so that may or may not be a factor.

    Having said all that, my crew would not make any noise if they saw a coyote, or stray dog, or person on my doorstep. But they would stare intently, assessing the situation and waiting. Waiting for . . . backup? a deciding move from the opponent? I’m not sure. Interestingly enough, I’ve had 2 different malinois rescue dogs in the house with this crew (one at a time). The current mali is vocal with balls and other exciting times, but does not bark when people come to the house. She was vocal in guarding the car, but I think that has subsided somewhat (a whole ‘nother kettle of worms so to speak). The first mali never barked at visitors or when the propane truck drove up the driveway either, but was happy to alert me to any rabbit, cat or dog on the otherside of the window. Both mali’s joined the household at about a year old. The idea was that we needed on large barking dog, but upon retrospect, I probably did not need to be protected against bunnies. I can only guess that both mali’s, walking into a house of basenjis, took their cues from the basenjis. I have heard of the reverse also happening on occasion. Where a basenji learned to bark from the other dog in the house.

  3. em says

    Another interesting post! Congrats on scaring off the coyote-the local population here (upstate NY) is a relatively new phenomenon and has grown tremendously in the past ten years or so. They are also significantly bigger animals than are found in the Western U.S. (According to SUNY college of Environmental Science and Forestry, genetic testing indicates that coyotes cross-bred with gray wolves as they spread across Canada. As a result, it is not uncommon for the males in our area to reach 60lbs). They are mostly quite shy, but recently they seem to be growing much bolder around both humans and dogs- a friend of ours came upon one who stood her ground (defending a den, as it turned out) when faced with a tall man and a labrador retriever (who was, it has to be said, both elderly and short-sighted-she approached as if the coyote were a dog-happy wagging and no barking). Still, this type of contact would have been unheard of even five years ago.

    Otis, my great dane, would not make that mistake. He is very aggressive toward coyotes, though he almost never barks at them. He detects them by smell first, typically and then he will growl, deep and low, and if he spots them, he’ll then charge them as fast as he can. This is different from other animal chasing. All the hair stands along his back, his tail is raised high over his back, he charges after only long enough to assure himself that they are gone-maybe a hundred yards at the most- in other words, he runs them off, rather than actually trying to catch them. The coyotes he’s seen-and some he didn’t catch sight of, never fail to beat feet as fast as they possibly can at just the sight of him.

    Given his size, it probably is a blessing, but Otis is one of those dogs who very seldom barks-he doesn’t waste energy when he’s engaged in a chase. He will sometimes bark in a territorial way, but usually only if he thinks we (the humans) don’t see the intruder. In that case, his bark is definitely more of a you-are-about-to-be-toast ‘woof’ than anything else. This can cause some problems when he’s in social situations with other dogs.

    When we were dog-sitting my brother’s dog, a shepherd-rottie mix, the two dogs got along great. He loves Sandy and she loves him, but they react in very different ways when they see something on the other side of the fence. Ordinarily, Otis will silently watch a person or dog, carefully assessing the situation, but usually not reacting at all. Sandy, on the other hand, is the consummate watchdog-if she sees someone or something of interest, she immediately barks. Her tone is happy, excited, and her bark is directed more at me, than at the thing she sees-it’s more of a ‘hey! hey! I see something! Look at that! What should I do? hey, dog! Do you see me? A bark, in other words.

    Unfortunately, that type of bark isn’t in Otis’ vocabulary. When he barks, it is not directed at me at all, only at the object of his interest. His tone has no happy edge to it, instead he seems to be saying, “Hey! You can’t be here! GET LOST! Definitely a woof. While he almost never barks, when he does, it seems to be an integral part of an action-disposing of a threat- rather than a conversation. The problem is that when’ they’re together, Otis and Sandy get their wires crossed. She’ll bark because she sees something of interest, and he’ll leap up to back her, thinking she’s trying to run off a threat. Sandy is excitable, but biddable and easily redirected. All I have to do is say, ‘ok, enough,’ and she quits immediately, ready to move on to something else. Otis however, is like a landslide-not easily started, but almost impossible to stop. He is difficult to interrupt, and stays in a heightened state of excitement and vigilance for a long time. The end result is Sandy sitting angelically at our feet while her ‘henchdog’ takes the rap for inappropriate barking :-)

  4. Beth says

    Interesting topic. I have Corgis, known to be very vocal dogs. My girl is fairly submissive (for a Corgi), while my boy is much bolder— as a puppy, I had to leash him because when he’d hear something alarming, his reaction was not to cautiously approach and retreat, but to run right towards it, barking.

    The male’s alarm bark is definitely more of an “If I could get out there, so help me I would rip you to pieces” while the female’s is more of a “hey, hey, hey, I’m gonna need some help over here!” call to the rest of the “pack.” Case in point: we were on the deck when a stray cat waltzed through the yard. Both dogs made a big racket, but when I made a “Psssst pssst” sound at the cat, my female put her ears back, looked startled, and went all quiet. My male just kept barking louder, as if to say “Ha, we’ve got you cornered now you mangy beast!” It seemed to me that she was calling for backup, and misinterpreted my noises towards the cat as disapproval towards her and so she stopped. My boy, on the other hand, thought he was leading the cavalry into battle and interpreted my noise-making as joining in. That was my take on it anyway.

  5. Carolyn says

    to notify me of meal times, Annabelle gives me a grumbling grrrrrrrrrRRRRRRR RUFF!

  6. Veronique Vanderbeke says

    I’m orginally from Belgium, the Dutch speaking part of the country. Dutch is a language influenced by French, English and German and yes we say … “Woef!”

    I also have to corgis and it’s funny, but just like Beth my male has a deep threatening WOOF bark, while my female’s bark his quite a lot higher. My boy will also really bark at the door and jump up on the door, while my female seems to bark more at the male, trying to control his behavior or so?
    It’s always interesting to see the UPS-guy’s face light up when he sees the dogs after hearing them bark. “Oh, they’re so small!” I guess that dogs with “dwarfism” do not comply to the rule that smaller dogs have higher barks.

  7. Min says

    My mother is from Taiwan and I lived there for many years. In Chinese, dogs say “gou” (pronounced like the word “go”). “Gou” is also the Chinese word for dog.

    I was born in Japan and lived there for many years as well. There, dogs say “wan wan”.

  8. Mike says

    Our Akita pretty much only barks when she means business – it almost always correlates to someone coming up to the house, or the neighbors getting home, or a stray dog wandering past. She vocalizes very deeply, but most of the time it’s more of a grunt or a “huff” than a true woof. When she’s *really* concerned about an intruder, she goes into more of a full on scary “woof” that understandably makes delivery men a little concerned.

    She’s less likely to bark at other dogs, though, other than a quick “woof woof” once if she thinks I haven’t seen them yet. Then she just goes on the ready and watches until she figures out what they’re going to do. Anything more prey-like she’ll chase, but she doesn’t seem to do a good job of noticing them to begin with, so we don’t have her going after rabbits too often.

  9. says

    “Some argue that barks lack any communicative value at all (these could not be people who own dogs, could they?),”

    ??!! Really??!!

    Anyone who has owned a dog and especially anyone who has owned more than one dog at a time will tell you they can *clearly* understand what this or that bark means.

    I can tell you which dog it is that is vocalizing without seeing them and I can almost always pinpoint *what* they are barking at or about.

  10. Angela says

    I got a good laugh as I was reading Holly’s comment – my border collie Dax just very clearly communicated that he needed my help to reach his fish ball. And our older dog Echo is very clear about scolding us if we’re away from home for too long.

  11. Heidi Meinzer says

    Having lived in Albania for over four years and having the company of a wonderful Albanian dog for 13 1/2 years, I can confirm that in Albania, dogs say “ham ham”!

  12. says

    In Holland, barking is called “blaffen”, and as Veronique said, dutch dogs say “woef woef” (pronounced as woof woof) or “waf waf”.
    I’m quite happy about the fact that my four-breed mix Tara is a rather silent dog: she seldom barks but she murmurs a lot. Funnily enough she always does this when approaching other dogs too, making a low, short friendly sounding whining sound.
    Right now I’m staying at my brother’s house to look after his two dogs, and they both bark a lot, at every real or imagined disturbance. If one of them gives a short bark, the other one will charge in his direction barking his head off, even if he has no idea what’s going on.
    Unless of course a roe deer or a hare dares to enter their fenced off part of the (large) garden. Then they set off in absolute silence :).

  13. Frances says

    In our house it is known as Yip Yaps – with a papillon and a toy poodle the reason is obvious! I have been interested to watch how their barking – and reaction to barking – has changed as they grow up. Both will do the deep (for them) single warning bark. When Poppy was a pup, and Sophy made this noise, it was a signal for Poppy to run for home as fast as she could. Now both use it as a warning alert, a signal to come and look quickly, but not get too close.

    There was definitely a point as a puppy when each learned to bark, and barked at *everything* the slightest bit out of the usual. I had a jackdaw trying to build a nest outside the back door when Sophy discovered her voice – she barked every time it dropped a stick for days, until I finally realised what was setting her off. Anyone who knows jackdaws will know just how wearing that was! Lots of opportunities for practising Settle Down, though!

    Then there came a point in adolescence when they each took responsibility for watching out. First Sophy would spend hours looking out of the window, and let me know when the postman was coming, or next door’s dog coming out to play, with a cheerful volley of yaps, quite unlike the warning bark. Then at about 9 months Poppy took over – she does the watching, Sophy snoozes on the sofa, and only gets up if she decides the “Come and look at this!” noise warrants it. If a stranger approaches the house, we still get the deeper warning bark, preceded by a low rumble that is in the same register as a growl – quite unmistakable. When out in the grounds they will do an in-between sort of bark when they see one of my neighbours until they are sure it is someone they know, and not a possible intruder (I live in a courtyard development of 15 houses, so have a lot of close neighbours, who in their turn have lots of visitors!).

    They will occasionally bark out of excitement – or more exactly frustration – if I am slow to throw a toy, or the cat refuses to play. This is the barking I particularly try to avoid – having inadvertently taught my first dog to bark a lot by doing all the wrong things, I have been very careful with these two – I have all those close neighbours all around, and constant yapping is not conducive to good relations! I read Turid Rugaas and everything else I could find, put as much sensible advice into practice as I could, and now they are both pretty good at settling down when asked. The only time I find it really difficult to calm them is when my neighbour’s well-trained Newfoundland gives her warning bark – a huge, deep woof that is, I suspect, not dissimilar to Tulip’s. That is such a powerful warning that mine cannot resist joining in vociferously.

    Lovely to see Will and Hope happy together. Poppy loved the biting the bum game too. I was carefully “ignoring the negative and rewarding the positive” at the time – she was a very “soft” puppy when she was small, and easily made anxious. Trouble is, it is very difficult not to shriek and jump three feet in the air when those puppy teeth grab you unexpectedly just there, which she found hugely amusing. When I realised she was beginning to follow particularly interesting rear ends with a naughty gleam in her eye, I followed my instincts – the next time she did it to me I turned and gave her a deep, grumbly growl. She cocked her head on one side, wagged her tail – and never did it again.

  14. Beckmann says

    In Japanese it is ‘wan wan’ or ‘won won’. In German, ‘wau wau': “W” with “V” sounds.
    I looooove sound of play bark with a big smile on my dog’s face:-)

  15. Heidi Meinzer says

    BTW — for the Albanian “ham ham” phrase, the word sounds much much like our word “hum” — not like our word “ham.”

  16. Sari says

    Here in Finland the verb “to bark” is “haukkua”, and dogs say “hau hau”, pronounced roughly like English word “how”.

  17. says

    Very interesting post. I, sitting here at my computer while my dachie/ and jrt dachie x sleep in bed, I had to give it a try. It is morning so I woof more quietly than if it everyone was up. I woof, that “woof” that says, “hey wait a minute I think that there is something wrong. A woof that my mini dachie does a lot. After just a few woof, my lil guy poked his head out from under the covers and matched my woofs. Not the loud alarm, but warning woof. It was rather funny.

    I don’t know who says that barks don’t mean anything. I can tell if someone is on the property, a cat just walked across the porch, or the neighbors are just getting into their car from my dachies vocalizations. My 3/4 dachie/ 1 1/4 JRT has the largest number of vocalization I have ever heard from a dog. She talks ALL the time. Everything deserves a comment from her. She even will take turns, me speaking in English and her making strange noises that are definitely not barks or woofs.

  18. AnneJ says

    I tried “WOOF” on my dogs but they weren’t fooled, they just looked at me like I was crazy. Cinder is our main alarm dog and her bark is a “roo roo roo roo roo” type of sound. She is a 35 lb dog, but her son has the same type of bark but much deeper, as he is about 55 lbs. His Roo Roo Roo Roo alarm bark sounds like a hound dog bay.
    I have a strange noise making dog too. Sprite when she wants to go out or wants to make a comment on something, makes a whine that sounds very much like “meow”. Other times she will make a trill that is very bird like. She can bark but rarely does.

  19. says

    When Tucker and I are out hiking and we run into something that needs our attention a definite “Woof” is what we do. If it’s a coyote Tucker defers to me and lets me have the bigger lower “woof” but it’s definitely a “woof” that gets the coyotes heading off. If Tucker smells something more threatening (mountain lion) his vocalizations are more high pitched and more of a “Woo-woo-woo-woo”. I’ve learned to listen to him and I understand a lot more of what he’s trying to communicate with his doggy language. I find it cute that he stands by my side during a confrontation and looks to me for guidance – run or bark, mom?

  20. Jeff Line says

    There is an article on the topic of barking which appeared in the journal Behavioral Processes last year. The lead author is Kathryn Lord assisted by Mark Feinstein and the always thought provoking Ray Coppinger. They suggest barking is related to mobbing behavior. I just found the article and have not fully internalized their argument yet. I suspect they may have identified a context for some barking, but have not provided nearly the final word. Actually, I doubt if there is a single final word.

    Being unsure of copyright rules, I am only providing a link to a summary on Science Daily.

    I was able to obtain free access to the entire article by searching for Kathryn Lord on the UMASS Amherst website.

  21. Trini says

    What a terrific post! That’s fascinating. I feel like you expel your breath in very different ways with the different vocalizations – “woof” clearly has a more forceful, deep diaphragm contraction, while “bark” seems to come from higher up in the throat/nose area. I feel like I’m in yoga when I try to make the “woof’ sound. :-)

  22. Sonja says

    Both of my current dogs are very vocal and talky. Zoe’s “I need something (outside, water, etc.) usually goes something like “roh roh rohrohroh” in a slow, talky (not barking) tone. This is somewhat encouraged because I looove a talking dog. Her guardian bark, is a fast, sometimes borderline terrifying low pitched “ROHROHROHROHROH!!” She’s s a 35 lb ACD mix, but she can sound like a dog 3 times her size when trying on her guardian bark. Thankfully, she talks more than she barks.

    Annie the Beagle mix is my first dog ever to bay, and it fascinates me. She barks as well, sometimes switching between bark and bay in the same scenario (but generally preferring the bay in these situations). She sometimes barks to initiate play. She has never bayed with her eyes on any member of our family. Baying is reserved mostly (exclusively?) for what I interpret as “territorial intrusions.” We always know when a visitor has arrived before the first knock because of the single, deafening “AROOOOO!” Annie lets out as she runs to the window.

    I wish I understood baying better. I always wonder if “AROOOOO!” is the same in Annie’s head as “ROHROHROHROH!” in Zoe’s. In other words, does baying replace a kind of bark or is it something altogether different? All I can do is observe and speculate. I can say with 99% confidence that Annie’s baying is always accompanied by a specific posture. Specifically, she throws her head back so that her nose is pointed upward. She can do this while running, sitting, standing, whatever. The only constant is that the nose points upward. :)

    My dogs definitely communicate vocally with people and with each other/other dogs. This includes, but is not limited to barking. :)

  23. Joh says

    Interesting topic! (as a linguist I’m very intersted in all your examples for “woof woof”)

    In German (my mother language) dogs bark: wau wau (like wow wow) or wuff wuff (quite similar to the englisch woof – but with a shorter “oo”-sound and a “harder” pronunciation). The verb for barking is bellen.

  24. says

    I’m in Mexico and our dogs here say “guau guau.” When we’re out for walks, babies even point to my dog and say “guau guau!” just like our babies in America point to dogs and say “woof woof!”

    When we first adopted our mutt, Libbie, some trainers suggested that she was probably a Basenji mix. She looks like a big Basenji and didn’t bark. After about two months, once she seemed to take ownership of our space and our family, her defensive bark started to come out. Now she uses a low growling bark whenever anyone comes to our door (which is a LOT in Mexico) but I have never heard her use a “bark.” She seems to reserve her vocalizations only for warning/defense, never for play or excitement. As it turns out (through dna testing) she is a husky/lab/chow/English coonhound mix and not a Basenji at all!

  25. Beth says

    I just wanted to respond to Sonja’s post about baying. Of course in a hound selected for baying, it would be something different. But my male Corgi bays (Aaaa-rooooo) when he has been a very good boy and knows a treat is coming and I’m going too gosh darn slow. I interpret his baying as happy anticipation, something he does as much for his own pleasure as a communication to me.

  26. Lindsay says

    My dog Charley (AmStaff mixed with ????) is very, very vocal.

    There is the “attention/boredom whine” and the “I want that whine” (for when he sees something he wants to chase but knows that he shouldn’t), the “wow! Did you see that?” bark (Bark-bark, pant, pant, pant, bark-bark), the “Yay! People” bark (Arf-arf-bark-bark-bark) for whenever someone comes into the house, the “Grumble, grunt, roo-roo-roo woof” when he is trying to encourage someone (dog or human) to play with him, the “Alert!” bark (Aroo-roo-roo-roo-ruff) and the “woof” which seems to be for occasions where he wants to alert me, without giving a lot of warning to whatever prompted the “woof” or to warn something or someone away. The “woof” is usually preceeded by some staring and posturing, so I almost always know that it is coming. The dreaded “attention bark (bark-bark, pause, bark-bark, pause….) is used to demand something – that one basically means “Hey lady! Hey lady!” and we are actively working to extinguish that one. There is also the “happy pant” which is used to greet people he knows well and usually occurs along with the full body wag and happy dancing feet.

    The “Yay! People” bark is much different (to me at least) that the “Alert!” bark, but most visitors can’t tell the difference and so I continually get asked if it is safe to come into the house. Interestingly enough, when the door bell rings or someone knocks, he starts with the “Alert!” bark and then once I open the door and he realizes that it is a person on the other side who might potentially want to love him, he switches to the “Yay! People!” bark. He very rarely “woofs” at visitors that come to the door. The indoor “woofs” are usually directed out the back window at animals or people that he can see over the fence.

    The “Yay! People!” bark almost never occurs outside the house – it seems to be reserved for inside only. If we are in the yard and people go by, he alert barks, or woofs if they are not known and does the “happy pant” if it is someone he knows.

  27. says

    I just remembered: the BBC made a fascinating documentary called The Secret Life of Dogs – it used to be on You Tube, but apparently it’s been taken down.
    I have no idea whether there’s a way to acquire this documentary – does anyone know? – but if there is I can really recommend it.
    In one of the chapters dog owners are asked to listen to a tape of their dog barking, and identify what the dog is “saying” (alert, fear, let’s play, that sort of thing). If I remember correctly, they almost always got it right (which won’t surprise the readers here :) ).

  28. EmilyS says

    I dunno… I find it hard to believe that a coyote can’t tell the difference between a dog’s voice and a human’s voice, whatever the words are. We don’t think those “talking” dogs on youtube are actually humans, do we?

  29. Alexandra Wh says

    I own a dog who I jokingly call “the worst beagle” – he doesn’t chase rabbits, he doesn’t chase our cats, and he’s one of the quietest dogs I know. I’m not complaining, mind!

    He is a very whiny dog – if I leave him alone where he can’t get to me, he’ll whine loud enough to hear him through walls. Whining is the sound I hear from him most: “I want a walk, tie your shoelaces faster!” “I’m hungry and I want my breakfast!” “Let me out so I can go potty!” “It’s five thirty in the morning, why aren’t you awake yet?”

    When he does bark, though, he makes two distinct sounds. One of them is his “come to me” sound – if I’ve closed the door while he’s out in the yard, and he wants in, he’ll howl-bark. It’s high pitched, short, and followed by a second or so pause in between barks. If he’s going to bark at a cat, this is the sound he makes.

    He also makes a very low, very quiet “whuff” sound if he sees something that makes him nervous. He’ll do this sometimes at night, if he sees a shadow or something like that. His tail will be low, his ears will be back, and he’ll make a low but carrying sound until I go check to see what’s wrong. Usually if I investigate and return, he’ll quiet down.

    Also, I’m an American, and the words I’m used to are barking and woofing.

  30. mungobrick says

    My poodle mix is a very quiet dog – also very shy. She will bark a defensive bark at a strange male who comes into the house and LOOKS at her. She barks at her reflection in the windows at night. And she barks at motorcycles and cows when she is in the car. In fact, every morning on our way to our walk in the marshes we pass a field of cows – we stop so they can look at her and she can have a bit of a bark at them. These barks seem to mean “something strange is here”, because when she chases a bird or a cat outside she is completely silent. She has a play bark that she uses with our indoor cats. Her friend Angus the boxer vocalizes constantly – he keeps up a running whine commentary in the car which drives his owner nuts.

    (Just tested a low WOOF or two on Daisy, she opened her eyes and looked at me but couldn’t be bothered to lift her head. Perhaps she didn’t understand English dogtalk? We do live in a bilingual province, so I tested “ouah ouah” , the French equivalent, but still no response. Maybe she thinks she is a cow)

    Fun site on the topic of animal speak:

  31. Autumn says

    J – I too thought of “The Secret Life of Dogs”. I saw it referenced on this site before and tried to find in on youtube. I eventually searched for it and found sites where you can download it in parts. The segment on barking is definitely relevant to this conversation. It is a well-done documentary and really highlights the relationship between dogs and humans!

  32. says

    When I think about it, Calvin’s strongest alarm is a definite, low ‘woof.” Lucy pretty much always sounds like “arf! arf!” or the classic pug warble of “awooo-wow-wow-wow.”

    The sounds I like most are the play talking. Lucy and Calvin both sound like little Tan-tans when they play. There is a lot of warbles, “arh, wagh, arh, arh,” and the like. They really do sound like they are talking!

  33. trisha says

    A few somewhat random comments: To em–so typical that a dog who is either being predatory or truly aggressive is silent. I’m always most wary of a dog who stays silent but stares directly at me, body stiff, eyes hard. I’d much rather they be barking! And a good working Border Collie never barks; barks are considered by all to be a sign of insecurity and fear.

    I love the jackdaw story! Reminds me of my first Gr Pyr, who barked for 2 days as an adolescent when we moved the farm truck from the place it had been all winter to the other side of the barn!

    To KT: How interesting you use Woofs too, to get the coyotes to leave. Let us know what works on Mountain Lions! (I’m jealous!)

    To Jeff Line: Yeah on you, thanks for the reference. I had heard about the ‘mobbing’ hypothesis, but couldn’t remember from where! I’ll dig it up, thanks again. And thanks too to mungobrick for the link to another site. I’ll check it out.

    And yes, J, you are absolutely right that The Secret Life of Dogs had a segment asking owners to provide a context for barks, and that they were quite accurate. (I wonder if the show can be purchased on DVD? It really is great….)

    Somewhere, some commented very reasonably: Do you really think that coyotes can’t tell a human vocalization from a dog bark? It is a darn good question. All I can say is that when I WOOF WOOF WOOF, the coyotes run away or stop howling. If I do anything else, they don’t. Here’s a counter question then: does it matter if the coyotes can ID the sound to a species, or could they just be responding to a universally threatening sound? Could they know that a person is making the noise, but that that person is warning them of a potential attack?

    To all hound lovers: Aaaaaaaa Roooooooooooooooooooooo! (And I know almost nothing about baying. . . Anyone know the derivation of it? Seems like it must have developed from a howl, yes?

    And to all, ‘gou gou,’ ‘wan wan,’ ‘waf waf,’ ‘hau hau,’ ‘guau guau,’ and ‘ham ham.’ Keep ’em coming!

  34. Kat says

    Stanley Coren in his How to Speak Dog has a very well done chapter on Vocalizations. He talks about hunting hounds having different “words” /sounds for different prey. Very interesting.

    Ranger has a number of sounds with meanings ranging from “excuse me but I need you to do something for me” to “calling the pack, we may have a situation here” to the deep warning woof that seems to mean “I’ll come and tear you to pieces if you don’t go away right now.”

    Yesterday at the dog park he was playing and wrestling with his two buddies, a somewhat overweight chocolate lab whose almost 6 and a 2 year old Great Dane/Lab. As usual Ranger assumed his lazy fight from the back and make the others do all the jumping around but when the chocolate Lab accidentally stepped on his belly Ranger came off the ground with a deep ferocious woof that sent the lab yipping off to hide behind his person. Nothing happened, nothing escalated, Ranger just made it very very clear that he wasn’t going to put up with being stepped on you could really hear the menace in that single woof. Ranger shook himself off, the Lab came back and play bowed then licked Ranger’s face, the Dane/Lab charged in to grab a mouthful of fur and the play resumed. It was fascinating watching the interaction. One menacing woof from Ranger had the older and heavier Lab was crying like a puppy all high pitched and frightened sounding. As he was hiding behind his person and being gently mocked for being a wuss I joked that he was trying to tell his person “But Ranger meant it that time.” Which actually was true, Ranger clearly said “get away from me right now or else” and usually Ranger says , “you’d better run, I’m gonna get you.” One is a real threat and the other a play threat. I think that’s the big difference between barks and woofs, woofs are real threats barks aren’t. I know I give a much wider berth to a dog that woofs at me than to one that’s just barking.

  35. says

    oh but the woof is so much more than random woohooing!

    I have an Aussie x either LGD or Golden Retriever and he ends coyote conversations with one big bark. They will not come into the property at all. A similarly loud, but different sounding bark is used before the heel on slow or obstinate cattle. A very polite warning shot across the ‘bow’ (wow). 😉

    But like AnneJ’s Sprite – my Molly usually makes a sound more like a squeek. Unless she is turning cow heads.

    The Bark is dynamic and powerful! To assert that it is meaningless is simply a lack of observational skills – or maybe a lack of appropriate subjects. :)

    Wonderful post Trish. I was just thinking yesterday how much I wish Molly had a bit of her brothers voice.

  36. Alexandra says

    I am going to try woofing around my dogs and see what happens! Izzy alarm barks fairly often, and 99% of the time Copper ignores her. Occasionally I’ll hear a deeper woof out of her that really means business (usually reserved for strangers at the door or kids cutting through our yard) and Copper always responds by coming to bark AT me and asking me to come WITH him to go look at whatever has caused the alarm. He’s a great doorbell relay if I am in the backyard and can’t hear it. Copper rarely initiates barking (labs really are terrible watchdogs) but he will woof occasionally and Izzy always goes to check it out.

    Sometimes, especially when we dogsit and have 4 or 5 total, someone will woof at nothing and set off the whole pack to go running around trying to figure out why they are all barking. We call that “starting rumors.”

    My dad speaks English as his fourth language and used to read the Tintin comics to me in French as a kid. The little dog in them was shown as barking with a word I can’t remember but sounded something like “ouah!”

  37. Riikka says

    I’m a Finn, and here dogs say ‘hau hau’. Sadly ‘hau hau’ does not describe the way either of my dogs bark. My Lab x GSD x Lapphund has a very low bark that she uses as a warning and alarm. She barks rarely and I think the first time I heard her make any noise, she was three or four months old. My Golden Retriever x Finnish Hound is a lot more vocal, though. She loves to play growl and has a fairly high pitched bark compared to my older lady. It’s easy to spot the hound in her voice, even though she looks like a black Lab with white markings.

    My mother’s old Newfie didn’t bark, but she would sometimes howl in the middle of the night. She was a huge dog and her howl would make the walls resonate. My mum’s Malamute x Newfie mix doesn’t seem to have the same love for howling but she loves to ‘talk’.

  38. says

    My hound mix has a mutated form of a beagle’s “A-ROO” that comes off more like a high pitched “AAARRFF”. She does this when she sees a rabbit or cat that she can’t go chase. She is quiet while spotting them, it is only when she reaches the end of her leash and I won’t let her go further that she comes out with her version of “A-ROO”.

    Abby doesn’t bark when people come to the door or when we are on our walks and come across other people walking, dogs, bicyclists etc.

    She does have a “HURRY UP AND MOVE IT” bark that she gives me when I come home from work and am too slow changing into the dog walking clothes. This demanding bark is short and clipped. Fortunately, that it reserved for the “I want to go out now” moments and not for other things (like dinner or treats).

    Abby likes to lie out on our balcony and look out on the world 15 floors below us. She will bark at things moving down below (particularly at night), which I assume are the neighborhood outdoor cats. My eyesight (and sense of smell) are not as good as hers. Again, this is the short clipped barks that sound quite demanding (in this case, I want to be down there) to this pair of human ears.

  39. says

    A couple comments on mountain lions aka pumas. I’m in Belize and we have a lot of them here. A friend was working in his garden and noticed a puma stalking some deer nearby. Mike crawled on his belly (I know I know!) to get closer to the puma and watch it hunt. Which he did for quite a stretch of time — 10 minutes or so. The puma was aware of him of course. Mike said it looked at him from time to time. Then Mike’s husky-shepherd who was in the house about 150 m away happened to bark at something, someone coming home I think. Mike said the puma was gone just like that. It happened so fast, he didn’t even known which direction it had gone.

    One time a friend and I were walking in Belize with her springer. I was used to all of Dutchesses’ barks at birds and other critters. Her high pitched “I’m freaked out” bark — which we’d never heard before — signaled a puma which she ran toward and then back to us. The puma turned and left, not in a big hurry, but not slowly either.

    As for my little Maggie, she has been far too close to pumas here but has never barked at them. She’s not at all a barker, a very quiet little girl.

  40. em says

    Thanks, Trisha, for your comment. I hope it didn’t come across that Otis silently glares at people or other dogs-he doesn’t at all. When he’s out in the back yard watching people or dogs or squirrels or whatever on the other side of the fence he is very relaxed, usually lying on his side up on the deck. He notices everything-he’s very environmentally focused, but he’s not intense or confrontational about it. Contemplative might be the word. If a person or dog seems suspicious for some reason-dogs lunging at the end of the leash, or people seeming to sneak around (our neighbor had some family visiting once, and observing strange kids playing hide and seek was very distressing to Otis-the sneaking, the chasing, the shrieking-he found it all very disturbing at first) he’ll woof. The message is clear-‘STOP IT RIGHT NOW!’ or ‘GO AWAY!’ Usually, though, he remains calm but watchful.

    Of course, now that I say that, I realize that Otis did give one of his rare an ‘alert’ barks just today. A delivery truck arrived with our new patio set while Otis was out back. He barked once, a true bark-aimed at me, not at the delivery guy- ‘Hey! Look at that!’ When I came to look and went out to meet the guy, Otis went back to the deck to resume his hectic afternoon schedule of lying in the sun. :-)

  41. Mihaela says

    In my native Romania the barking sound is spelled just like in Albanian: “HAM, HAM” (pronounced as if spelled “hum, hum”). On the other hand, the Romanian dogs bark exactly like the ones here. On a recent visit there, I got to listen to the “choir” of (oh, so many!) street dogs every night and it felt like I hadn’t missed a beat being gone from my current Memphis neighborhood….

  42. Carrie says

    I don’t have another language to share, but I will share a 9month old American’s perspective.

    When my sister was 9 months old her first word was doggie. She said it for one week and then changed to saying “Woo Woo Woo.” Doggie was a happy high pitched word, but Woo Woo Woo was as deep of a noise as she could muster and she dragged out the ooo’s slowly. She always said Woo three times. We did not own a dog at the time but our neighbor owned two yellow labs. She refered to them as “woo, woo, woo” for a couple of months. I guess the word doggie just didn’t seem appropriate to her. 😉

  43. Melinda says

    Living with 4 dogs in a relatively rural/wooded area, I could go on and on about their barks. Like most everyone else, we have fine tuned our ears to know all the variations and what they mean. We have a woo-woo’er, a raaawwwlllff-er, a snorter, but no woof-ers. The closest we have is one who berfs. It’s not loud, she only does it at dusk when sitting on the front porch. It seems to mean something like: “I can’t sees ya, but I can smells ya…and I’m on duty so you can jes fuggeddaboudit!”

    I just love my Sparky’s berf; it’s very comforting and cozy to listen to.

  44. D in NH says

    Am enjoying all the posts to this thread! Trisha, your comment that “a good working Border Collie never barks” is quite true, and my BC pup took that chapter of the manual very seriously early on. Despite all the tricks I successfully taught him, he refused to bark on command.

    But I don’t have a guard dog, and I do have sheep, and live on the edge of “the hundred acre wood.” One night I heard that beautiful coyote chorus in much too close, so I took my two BCs out to try to make believe they were Great Pyrs. My older dog willingly barked on cue. The young dog refused. The coyotes howled again. More urgently, I said in a deep voice “COYOTES! BARK AT THE COYOTES!” and that illicited a nervous, high-pitched “Yap!” I almost laughed, and said “They won’t take that seriously, you sound more like a Chihuahua they’ll eat for lunch than a guard dog.” He barked again…a much more believable, deep WOOF! “Yes!” I said. “COYOTES!” WOOF WWOOF WOOF!! was his response.

    And there it began…his command for barking is now “Coyote!” Problem is…he has also decided it is fun to bark, and the heck with the Border Collie Manual.

  45. says

    what an interesting topic!

    My native language is Russian and the way you say bark is “Gav”. But an alarming bark or bay is referred to as “Lay” (pronounced “lie”). So a dog that is barking or yapping for the hell of it “gavkayet” – verb form of the word. But a dog sounding the alarm “layet” (verb form).

    My dogs are Italian Greyhounds and they are not guard dogs in the least. But they definitely have an alarm “awoowooowoo” bark. Which is very different from their playtime yips and ruffs. Though generally both of my boys are very quiet and vocalize only when the occasion really calls for it.

  46. Ravana says

    Barks have no meaning?!!

    My guy has a sprinkling of basset hound in him (along with a sprinkling of a lot of other breeds) and his barks are so distinctive I know without looking what he is barking at. He has even changed my vocabulary because of some of his barks. His distinctive barks are “dog I know”, “strange dog”, “bad dog” (breeds he doesn’t like), “bunny” (NOTE change of vocabulary for me: deer are now called “big bunnies” and female mallards on land are “bunny birds” because he uses the “bunny” bark for both these animals. Think about it, they have similar properties, brown bodies, white tails, big ears/wings, and a hopping motion), “kitty” (NOTE: change of vocabulary for me: opossums are “weird kitties” because he uses the kitty bark for them. We had an orphaned opossum who was taken in and raised by feral cats. It hung around with them and I’m sure that is why opossums became weird kitties), “raccoon”, “water bird” (female mallards in water are water birds), “tree bird”, “coyote”, and “something really scary and I don’t know what it is” (which is a deep growly WOOF!).

    As for the coyotes, when I encounter one I always raise my arms above my head and yell, “RAWRRR!” and usually the run. I had one who wouldn’t though so I just yelled, “You go git!” and he got.

  47. trisha says

    Ah, where’s my editor? I should have said, in my earlier comment, that a good Border Collie never barks while working. They often bark in other contexts, but not while herding sheep. There is a dog that works sheep called a Huntaway in New Zealand that barks… it is used to move sheep through heavy brush where a stalking Border Collie would be ineffective. The Huntaways sound like seals to me (no offense!)… ARP ARP ARP, look like Rottie/Lab/??? crosses… I asked when I was there years ago how they were bred, and no one could tell me. Anyone on the blog who knows what they were bred from? (And I’ll be in New Zealand doing a seminar in late November…. come join me, it’s the most beautiful place in the world!

  48. Joanna says

    In Polish, dogs say “how how” (spelled “hal”, with the “l” that has a squiggly line going through it).

    I can’t believe that anyone would think that dog barks don’t have meaning. I work at a daycare. If there is a dog in my yard who is stress barking, it gets ignored. If it’s play-barking, other dogs in a playful mood will perk up and look at what is happening, and maybe join in. If a dog sees someone on the other side of the fence, and barks at the intruder — hold onto your hat, because half the yard immediately joins in with distinct alarm barking! It’s hilarious when the dogs start alarm barking before they even pinpoint what the first dog was barking at. Sometimes they’ll be looking and barking in completely different directions.

  49. Melissa says

    I always thought it was completely loopy when I was a kid that “woof” was not a universal word. I was like “But that’s what they say!”

    There’s a paper that came out in a recent issue of Animal Behaviour by Farago and others about the sound of a growl and how it differs depending on context. My dogs bark a lot, especially the Vallhund, Erik. He was doing these serious watchdog barks when he was about 12 weeks old. He also has a high-pitched frustration bark and a middle-pitched uncertainty bark. If he does the middle-pitched one for a while it edges into that high-pitched bark, which in that context I take to mean he’s over-aroused. And he play barks, which sounds more growly.

    My Lapphund has a watchdog bark as well, but mostly from him I hear this repetetive, monotonous bark that doesn’t change in pitch or frequency. It’s very persistent. I’ve come to interpret it to mean “I am not wholly content somehow.” He doesn’t seem to know what he wants, but usually social contact from someone is the only thing that can get him to stop, and I’ve noticed a definite pattern to it occurring. Usually it’s when he hasn’t had enough of a play with me/Erik and he’s still got energy to burn, but neither of us are paying attention to him. If we both walk away from him when he’s in one of these moods before he starts barking, most likely he’ll start. I guess in a sense it’s attention seeking, but I think of it more as a communication to us, his social support, that he’s feeling socially deficient. Interestingly, he always gets depressed when vistors leave, but never barks then, even though he gets clingy. Maybe I’ve got it wrong. Or maybe his social deficiency is only bark-worthy when he specifically wants his family? Maybe despite being a very social guy, being social with strangers or friends is not the same as social contact with his family.

  50. Joh says

    while reading all this great comments my parents Leonberger crossed my mind. He’s a really big, heavy dog (even for a Leonberger).
    If somebody comes home (he loves EVERYBODY) he “barks” in a high voice, like a yip yip (he seems to think he is a very small breed – he jumps up and down at his hind legs an yips – we often joke that he’s born in the wrong body: he want’s to be a Jack Russel)

    When he is alert he makes a very deep woof sound (just once or twice than I gets silent and stares).

    Often humans find I’m more dangerous when he jumps and yips, because of his size and weight.

    “My breed”: Rhodesian Ridgebacks bark quite seldom. But they are very alert and “woof” if something they think is noticeable happens. (of course there are exceptions. A friend owns a RR and he barks all the time and “woofs” nearly never)

  51. Mary Beth says

    My dogs have 3 fenced acres to play on. They are often out of sight, yet I know exactly what’s up by their barks. It could be “critter in the yard…I need back up” or “critter in the yard…I’m gonna get you!” Or it could be “horses are running in the pasture and that’s really exciting”. Or, “Someone we don’t know is at the gate” or “someone we know is here”. Or “do you want to play with me(to another dog). Or something’s going on down the road that I can see. Or “I’m bored” “I want back in the house” And so on. So many different barks, but its not hard to tell exactly what’s going on. And which dog it is.

  52. AnneJ says

    I thought the subject of working dogs barking would be interesting. Border collies are known for silent working, but Aussies are not really. I have noticed at least four types of working barks. The first is the constant, irritating bark of a dog who is just way over excited by the stock and is new to herding. The second is the dog who is frustrated by the handler and actually barking at the person rather than the stock. Then there is the “help I’m over my head” bark given by a dog who is normally quiet when they have things under control, but when they are faced with an angry ram or cow they bark with a desperate tone. The last one is the dog who gives one or two deep barks at the head of a cow when turning it.

  53. brandy says

    I grew up surrounded by basset hounds, so the way I learned to “bark” was very deep and threatening-sounding. The word bark would never fit – it’s closest to woof, definitely. Now with two bassets of my own, it’s a bit embarrassing sometimes, because people definitely do mistake their low, loud barks for signs of aggression even when the real message is “Hey you! Come over here and play with me!” But those barrel chests just aren’t capable of making a bark that’s any higher-pitched (now, whines, those they can do through several octaves).

    One interesting thing about barks and communication – my boy has a very specific bark that means “I need to poop NOW.” I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but it’s a very directed bark, like he’s an army general shouting a command. He’ll sometimes use a quieter version when he needs to pee NOW and I haven’t yet responded to his whining. But if I hear his poop bark in the middle of the night, I know I’d better get him out of the crate and outside because he’s got diarrhea and otherwise I will wake up to a smelly mess.

  54. Annika says

    Interesting topic – in my native Sweden, dogs say “vov” or “voff”. The baby word for dog (hund) is “vovve”.

    I own a Swedish vallhund and don

  55. says

    Wow very interesting. I cannot wait to try this out at home, saying both “Bark’ & ‘Woof’ and seeing my dog’s reactions. It’s great you knew what to do to to scare the coyotes away.

  56. Catharina says

    In Germany barking is vocalised as “WAU”. Small children call dogs “Wau Waus”.

    Thanks for your interesting, funny, sometimes moving and always instructive blogg.
    I`m also a big fan of your books and often follow your recommendations when I”m searching for books of interest. I was never disappointed!

    By the way – concerning the “circle-wag”: Our dog – a mixed breed from the streets of Madrid, called Lena – does the circle wag when she is really having fun. During plays or when my husband and/or I are coming home after leaving her alone for some time.
    She also does a circle wag when she comes running very fast . It seems to be part of her braking maneuver.

  57. Beth says

    Border collies do work quietly. Corgis, which were developed to work cattle and fowl more so than sheep, seem to bark continuously while working; I’ve seen videos of Corgis moving cattle and barking the whole time. Of course, a cow is an entirely different critter, with a different mindset, than a sheep.

  58. Carolyn says

    Random-I’m excited to hear that you are writing another book, and I eagerly anticipate its printing! I do not think I could ever write a book–it seems like I would just run out of things to say fairly early on.

  59. says

    Thanks for another great post! Isn’t the game of Mouthy Mouthy a joy to watch? (Well, except for the volume and pitch as practiced here!)

    I’m an English speaker so you’ve pretty well covered my words for barking except that I call that happy, yippy, sound the Coyotes make “laughter…” and I really do believe that’s what it is — just like a bunch of drunken hooligans laugh when they’re planning some mean trick. Old neighbors had a pack of kenneled Beagles and every night, without fail, the coyotes would get the beagles in a lather and about five minutes into the barking / howling we’d hear those coyotes “busting a gut” with laughter.

    My Mountain Curr definitely has a different vocalization for each thing of interest… a loud happy bellow for people, a high bark on the deer trail, another for squirrels, but his the loudest, most incessant, irritating sound is when he’s bellowing at a snake. Thank goodness we don’t have poisonous ones here!

  60. E says

    I never would have thought an intimidating “woof” would have scared off the coyote’s!

    My cattledog x is not much of a barker but she whines and makes a lot of different grumbles and sounds. I thought I knew them pretty well and ignore any demands for attention (only polite behaviour like sitting or laying down is rewarded)..I always said I could distinguish between her “I want attention” vocalizations and her “I need to go out NOW”..but the other day I ignored her thinking she was just demanding attention..I was mistaken..she ended up having an accident on the rug…I guess she really did have to go out!

    I felt horrible and have been paying more attention to her vocalization..and overcompensating for my error by jumping up to take her out when she whines..of course now we get outside and she looks up at me smiling trying to get me to play and I’ve just rewarded her attention seeking behaviour…sigh. It made me doubt my ability to ‘read’ her.

  61. Dan says

    If I was a coyote I would rather run into bears, wolves, and cougars all at the same time than a great pyr on the defensive. I witnessed a coyote come within 60 yards of a great pyr and I have to say it was the most intimidating and aggressive site I’ve ever seen from a dog. The great pyr was on a tie out and there is no way any kind of fence would’ve stopped this dog from shredding the coyote to a million pieces.

    20 minutes after the encounter and the coyote long scared away, the great pyr was back to being is normal cuddle monster.

  62. Sonja says

    I’ve combed the Internet for information on the origin of baying. Thus far, I’ve not found much of anything. That it would be rooted in howling is parsimonious. Perhaps there are resources on the origin of scent hounds or the like. Now begins the unscientific comparative study of my own dogs. :p

  63. Rusty says

    Very interesting and timely. I *just* finished reading the book The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren. He discusses the body language and vocal messages dogs make. He also comments on high pitched barks vs low pitched barks from the same dog. I find it fascinating how he can describe something, and you can describe something and I’ll stop and think and say to myself, “Yup, my dog does exactly that when he’s happy, bored, tired…” I truely believe dogs really are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Great topic Trisha, thanks!

  64. sharonbaron says

    One of my Labs upon smelling a skunk walking up our driveway this week HOWLED like a beagle. A-rooooo! Over and over, while safely perched on the couch on my sunporch.

    He never alarm barks, leaving that to my older Lab, so this was particularly surprising to me.

    Most of the barking in this house is the two of them barking at each other in play and excitement. The occasional alarm bark is due to the doorbell ringing in most cases. No predators show up in this backyard in suburban NJ!

    Just curious Trisha, did you choose not to get another guardian breed after you lost Tulip? You clearly have a need of such a dog with your flock. Did you not think that Will could bond with a guardian dog, or is the point of a guardian that they primarily bond with the flock? I know some Pyrs spend all of their lives with the sheep and are minimally involved with the household.

  65. trisha says

    Quickly: I didn’t get another guardian dog right away because of two things: 1) They are huge, and I worry about caring for a big dog as I get older. I had many struggles with Tulip’s size and my bad back during her last year, including a horrific, desperate attempt to lift her into my car when she was having a medical emergency. 2) I’ve had 2 Great Pyrenees, Bo Peep and Tulip. Both have been larger than life, and I honestly couldn’t find it in my heart at the time to get another one. Their paws were just too big to fill. Who knows though what will happen in the future. . . I’d never say never.

  66. Charlotte says

    I’m Dutch and we say ‘Waf’ or ‘Woef’ (which sounds almost exactly like “woof”)

  67. D in NH says

    Oops. I knew what you meant re: Border Collies not barking while they work, but didn’t edit my comment properly either. My working BC still does not bark while he works sheep; but he does now bark, quite enthusiastically, about a lot of other things he never used to bark at. And the word “coyote” can turn him from a snoozing couch potato into a barking maniac as quickly as the word “sheep” can make him crouch and look for the woolies.

    Loved Ravana’s comments. My older BC has a similar, wide vocabulary that I can distinguish, especially at night when all is quiet on the farm: everything from “there’s a deer browsing on the hosta” to “hey I think the horses are loose” to “strange car just pulled in the driveway!”

  68. Janice says

    Two weeks ago, I attended the regional meeting for the ISAE (International Society for Applied Ethology) and heard a stellar presentation by a grad student named Winnie Chan on her preliminary data of her research in barking in pigs. Pig barks sound fairly similar to dog barking. She is investigating pig barking as a welfare marker. Pigs bark in two very different circumstances: one is an alarm circumstance and the response of the piglets to this is to flee and then freeze. The other context is that they bark during play sessions–and this bark does not cause fleeing and freezing behavior. Interestingly, Ms. Chan played recordings of the pig alarm bark and the pig play bark to the audience and they were virtually identical–to us humans, anyway. To pigs, they are different and elicit difference responses. So her ongoing Doctoral research is to determine the differences, both in the bark itself and also in the frequency that it is emitted and whether this can be used for enrichment (she was just presenting very early, preliminary results–more questions than answers). One thing that this showed me was that there could be a lot of information being transmitted in a bark that is outside our ability to hear. I like to think that I have fairly discriminative hearing, because of my avocation as a musician and singer. But they sounded identical to me. Pigs can hear in a lot more frequencies than us, and I suspect that is also true for dogs. So there may be a lot more information in a dog bark that our limited auditory sense can take in.

    An interesting experiment would be to get a really good digital recording of a G. Pyrenees “Woofing” and set up some playback equipment at the perimeter of your farm. Then trigger it to “WOOF” every time you hear coyotes. ( The only problem with this is that when coyotes are hunting, they don’t yip and howl. They use the yip and howl to identify locations of the pack or call them in after they have killed something so that they can share). Still, the occasional woofing on the perimeter of your fields may make them consider that it would involve a lot less risk if they hunted elsewhere.

    I have never used a livestock protection dog because, so far, my guard llamas have done such a good job. You might consider this as a reasonable substitute to getting another G. Pyrenees. They are dirt cheap around my area and eat pretty much what the sheep eat. Llamas also have an alarm sound–a loud grating noise that sounds like a klaxon going off. When you hear it, it really gets your attention. They make it rarely (I had guard llamas for 10 years before I ever heard it) and always for a good reason. But I have never heard one of my llamas, Koko, alarm call at a coyote– he saves this unnerving sound for deer. For some reason, he really takes exception to deer!

  69. says

    Huntaways as i learned it, were originally hound, Rott, Lab, GSD crosses. Work with a mouth like upright loose eyed dogs. BC’s and Kelpies are generally v quiet, but many Aussies, like Huntaways are known for using their voice as part of a working style.

    Trish, Great Pyr’s a great dogs, but agreed they are gi-normous! Maremma’s are more reasonable in size (and coat!). The females can be in the 60-70lbs range.

    Best of Luck!

  70. Linda H says

    I think pace as well as pitch conveys meaning. Anxious barking seems to be more rapid than threatening barks. And then there is the measured WOOF….WOOF….WOOF…. which I have thought of as a warning bark, but on reflection is may actually be more of a ‘here I am’ bark, or a perhaps a warning bark to a less immediate threat.

  71. quinn says

    I’m glad your WOOF worked! I tried barking, woofing, and finally ROARING at a black bear, and it was Not Impressed.

  72. says

    Loved the post AND all the comments. Kim M’s Basenji comments brought a tear to my eye (okay, more than one) as we had a Basenji for ten years. Her nickname was “the Roo,” for her yodeling sound.

    Thanks to people who link to other sites; I often look at them. That one chart of different animals with a variety of dog sounds was fun.

  73. says

    I am reading The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker and he has a great section on this topic on pages 162-163: “The link between the postures of the tongue and the vowels it sculpts gives rise to a quaint curiosity of English and many other languages called phonetic symbolism. When the tongue is high and at the front of the mouth, it makes a small resonant cavity there that amplifies some higher frequencies, and the resulting vowels like ee and i (as in bit) remind people of little things. When the tongue is low and to the back, it makes a large resonant cavity that amplifies some lower frequencies, and the resulting vowels like a in father and o in core and cot remind people of large things. Thus mice are teeny and squeak, but elephants are humongous and roar. Audio speakers have small tweeters or the high sounds and large woofers for the low ones….”

    Spanish speakers say ‘waow waow’

    Thanks for the great posts!

  74. says

    Cleo is a mutt, probably part Husky & German Shepherd. She clearly has a vocal range that has developed over the five years we’ve had her. She goes from the low woof that tells us something is out there but not too close yet or serious, to the medium register rumbles sound she makes when frustrated up to the loud, clear, deep from within the chest and very serious BARK. It feels to me like her Husky nature is talkative almost chatty while her GS side is all business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>