Do dogs really understand what you’re saying?
If you’ve been stuck at home with a bored dog, or have heard them forewarn of the arrival of a courier, you’ll know that they can make a LOT of noise. From playful growls to ‘that’s definitely an intruder’ barks (spoiler: it’s rarely an intruder) dogs definitely know how to get vocal. Plus there are the signs that we hopefully already understand, like wagging tails or the playful bow.
As your dog finds its voice in your household, you’ll experience all sorts of funny moments (and sentimental ones). Understanding what they want is key to a healthy dog-owner relationship. Here’s a quick guide to the vocal range of your dog.
What does howling mean?
Howls can mean lots of different things, the same way that shouting can for people.
A howl might be a call to other dogs they don’t have sight of or can’t reach. It could also be a sign of sadness or distress, such as when a dog is hurt or when they’re bored and lonely at home.
And, you’ll have noticed that a howling dog quickly turns into a howling dog choir. There’s quite a strong sign of canine affiliation associated with howling.
What does growling mean?
A lot of people assume that a dog growling means they’re feeling threatened or are aggressive. That can be the case, but not necessarily.
Growls actually form quite a large part of dog communication. And they can mean more than just ‘get away!’ If you’ve ever watched boisterous dogs playing with each other, there’s often a lot of growling involved. It’s a bit like kids yelling at each other in excitement on the playground.
It’s all in the pitch
When it comes to growling, pitch is important. Knowing the different growls your dog has will go a long way to helping you speak dog properly. For example, a medium-pitch growl is probably a playful rather than warning growl.
A low-pitched growl is more likely to be a warning for someone to back off or stay away. In this case, it’s obviously much better for your dog to express themselves vocally rather than physically.
What does whining mean?
The whine is your dog’s go-to for a huge amount of feelings and messages. It could mean they’re excited, scared, stressed, or asking for something. Sometimes a whine can even be a positive thing like a puppy proudly showing you that he went outside to do his business.
If your dog is whining with no subtle cues that he/she is happy or needs to go outside, there might be an underlying health concern for you to address. A quick trip to the vet is best in this case.
How to understand dog body language?
We all know that communication isn’t just verbal. Anyone who’s caught a partner rolling their eyes at you as they say ‘that’s fine’ can confirm that sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Below we explain how to use your body language to talk to your dog, as well as to understand dog body language.
Eyes and face
The eyes are the window to the soul. So maybe that’s why your dog is always staring at you? Either that or it’s dinner time. Learn to use your eyes and facial expressions when communicating with your dog to level up your relationship and understand dog speak.
Ever noticed that your dog raises his little canine eyebrows when he makes eye contact? That’s a clear dog body language sign that he recognises you and is happy to see you. Try telling him that you’re happy to see him as well!
And while you’re raising your brows, did you know that keeping eye contact can actually help you bond and understand your dog? It releases oxytocin in your brain and floods you with those happy, loving emotions.
Voice and pitch
Voice and pitch are more important than meaning for dogs. Often, anxious dogs will avoid children who screech. And nervous or abused dogs will cower if they hear someone shouting.
However, if you use a ridiculous baby voice when you talk to your dog, it turns out they love it! So go ahead and carry on with the high-pitched greetings and chatter with your dog.
But if they need some calming or reassurance, take it down a notch, and speak softly and calmly. The same goes for if you need to issue a command or instruction. Keep your voice low and authoritative, because telling your dog to sit in a sing-song, high-pitched voice can confuse them.
There’s not much better than a good snuggle with your dog, and their body language will tell you they love it, too. Gentle strokes are a way for your dog to bond with you and for you to show love and understand one another. Remember that you should only stroke a dog who initiates contact – unwelcome touch isn’t appreciated.
Using touch is a great tool to tell your dog that you love them, to reassure them that everything is OK. Or even to convey excitement and happiness. You don’t have to speak dog like a pro to know that most dogs respond well to a scratch on the shoulder or chest.
A dog that trusts you will let you stroke the soft fur behind his ears, something that strengthens your bond. And in case you were wondering, your dog does enjoy the attention.
About the reviewer of this page
This report was reviewed by Canstar Content Producer, Caitlin Bingham. Caitlin is an experienced writer whose passion for creativity led her to study communication and journalism. She began her career freelancing as a content writer, before joining the Canstar team.