10 sounds your dog makes and what they mean

Alex Beattie/FlickrDogs mean different things by their sounds.

If you’re a dog owner, you know that canines have a language all their own. Whether they’re barking, growling, whining or howling, they’re trying to tell you something – and it pays to be informed about what those sounds could mean. Because, while they’re often harmless, such vocalisations could be a sign of trouble. Here, we take a look at 10 common sounds that dogs make and exactly what they mean.


Barking is a dog’s main way to communicate, and it can mean a lot of things.

ABykov/ iStockBarking can be a sign of fear, boredom, or excitement.

Barking is a dog’s primary means of communication, so it should come as no surprise that barks mean different things, according to Whole Dog Journal. Your dog may bark to alert of danger, to demand attention or treats, to voice frustration, to express anxiety or fear, or to greet you when you get home. Sometimes, dogs bark while playing; other times, they’re just plain bored.


Growling doesn’t always mean a dog is angry or aggressive.

Molly_Wolff_Photography/ iStockGrowling isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression.

You might think that a growling dog is being aggressive, but that’s not always the case. Often, dogs growl because they’re afraid, according to Pet MD. Either they don’t like what’s going to happen (e.g., getting their nails trimmed), they don’t know what’s going to happen (e.g., a stranger comes into the home), they’re protecting their resources (e.g., food and toys), or they’re in pain. Keep in mind that growling may mean that your dog is having fun, like when playing with other dogs or chewing a bone.


Whining, crying, and whimpering could indicate emotional distress or pain.

Laughing_Dog_Photography/ iStockDogs whimper because they need something or are stressed.

Dog whining, crying, and whimpering can also mean several different things, according to the American Kennel Club. Your pup could be vocalizing because he needs or wants something, such as food or attention. Dogs that are stressed, scared, or in pain often will whine, too. Here’s one possibility you may not have considered: Your dog could be whining to apologise to you after being scolded.


Dogs usually grunt when they’re content — but that’s not always the case.

suefeldberg/ iStockGrunts are usually a noise of happiness.

Just like humans, dogs grunt from time to time, making low, guttural noises that usually indicate happiness, according to Cuteness. For example, when your dog settles into its bed and grunts, it’s expressing relief, joy, contentment, or serenity. Puppies, in particular, are prolific grunters, usually making the sound while eating, napping, being pet, or snuggling.

However, grunting can be an involuntary action, like when your dog is sleeping, or a cause for concern. When a pup is grunting excessively, it could indicate pain, discomfort, or illness, and it needs to be taken to the vet ASAP.


Dogs sometimes make strange honking sounds, called reverse sneezes.

sebliminal/ iStockThis can be alarming but it is usually just a short-lived episode.

Does your dog ever make a weird sound that’s like a combination of hacking, gagging, honking, snorting, and hiccuping all in one? That’s known as a reverse sneeze, according to The Bark. And although it may be alarming, it’s usually nothing serious.

These short-lived episodes are typically caused by spasming triggered by irritation of the dog’s throat and soft palate. Other causes include mites, eating or drinking, pulling on a leash, excitement, foreign objects in the throat, viruses, environmental irritants, and allergies. If your dog reverse sneezes on the regular, definitely get it checked out.


Coughing in dogs usually isn’t a big deal, but it can become a problem.

KateJoanna/ iStockSome coughs here and there aren’t a problem.

If your dog coughs every once in a while, that’s perfectly normal, according to WebMD. However, if a cough becomes persistent, it could be a serious problem, such as kennel cough, distemper, heart disease, a fungal infection, heartworms, lung problems, or congestive heart failure.


Howling goes back to dogs’ ancestral roots.

Bigandt_Photography/ iStockDogs howl to beckon a human back home.

Does your dog like to howl at the moon? The vocalisation could mean any number of things. Wolves and feral dogs howl to tell other members of their pack where they are, according to Dogster. So your domesticated pup could be howling to beckon you back home. Or your dog could be letting other canines know that this is its territory and they better steer clear.

Other reasons for howling are to express anxiety, to respond to environmental triggers (e.g., a fire-engine siren), to alert its master to a discovery or injury, or to attract attention.


Dogs make sounds in their sleep because they’re likely dreaming.

alkir/ iStockDogs dream just like us.

When your dog barks, whimpers, or growls in its sleep, it’s most likely dreaming, according to Cuteness. Science suggests that canine brains go through similar stages of electrical activity while sleeping as human brains, so they’re perfectly capable of dreaming like we do. Vocalisations, muscle twitching, and rapid eye movements indicate your pup is in the REM phase of sleep when dreams occur.


Sneezing — when it becomes chronic — could indicate serious health issues.

graphicphoto/ iStockA dog sneezing a lot could be a sign of a problem.

Sneezing every once in a while isn’t a big deal, but it could be cause for concern if your dog can’t seem to stop, according to Dogster. Causes of sneezing include irritants, like smoke or dirt; nasal mites, which can overwhelm the immune system; a sinus infection, which could be a sign of canine influenza; sinusitis and rhinitis, when the nasal passage or nose are inflamed; and tumours, like carcinomas and sarcomas. If your dog is repetitively sneezing, take it to the vet.


Snoring is usually harmless but could be a sign of something else.

Chris Waits/FlickrSnoring could be a sign on something bad.

It can be cute when your dog snores while slumbering, but it could be annoying – and concerning – if the snoring is too loud and frequent, according to Pet MD.

Certain breeds with short snouts are predisposed to snoring, including pugs, English bulldogs, and Shih Tzus. But even if snoring is natural for your dog, still keep an eye out for potential problems.

Your dog could be snoring because of something as simple as the way it’s positioned or an allergic reaction to dust or second-hand smoke. More serious causes include sleep apnea, excess weight, hypothyroidism, or an abscessed tooth obstructing the nasal sinus passages.

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