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What are they Saying?

Animals communicate in a number of ways.  They utilize vocalizations, olfactory signals and body language to communicate their messages.  When trying to decipher animal speak we need to understand that there is a great deal of variability.  There are subtle differences based on the situation so it is necessary to pay close attention to the inflection and pitch of the sound the animal is making.  Typically low pitched sounds are indicative of threats or aggression while higher pitched sounds can indicate playfulness, the animal is excited or fearful or possibly in pain.  We also need to pay attention to the length of the sound.  For an example, a high pitched short “yelp” from a dog may indicate it is afraid or in pain.  A more sustained sound is more of a warning such as a long, low guttural growl is a sign of aggression and possible attack.


Puppies have one set of vocalizations early in life that are based on their needs.  They are:

Bark – early in life you may hear a puppy barking during interactions with its littermates

Growl – if startled or moved a puppy may utter a guttural growl.  It can often be heard when it is interacting with littermates

Howl – initial whines or cries from the puppy may turn into a howl within the first few weeks of life.  These are most often attention seeking howls.

Moan – while a puppy is suckling on its mother or from a bottle a soft moan can often be heard. Many believe this is a type of location signal to the dam.  When they are happy and content sleeping in a pile of littermates you may also hear moans.

Scream – a puppy may scream in a high pitched sound to show distress or gain the dam’s attention.  This sound is more intense than a squeal.

Squeak – the squeak is another attention gaining vocalizations.  The puppy will squeak to get its mothers attention or to show a high level of arousal

Squeal – the squeal is a short, high pitched sound used to demonstrate distress.

Whine – the whine is another of the attention getting vocalizations.  It is higher pitched than the moan.

Woof – the woof is a short, soft bark that is full of air typically used as a sound of alarm or fear in a puppy


Yelp – the yelp is another indication of fear or some sort of distress.  It is typically a very high pitched short intonation.
As the animal matures the vocalizations change and there is a wider variety.  The canine will often mix two sounds such as bark and a growl or a bark and a howl.  As a general rule the higher pitched sounds point towards submissiveness or affiliation.  Warm, low and coarse tones are friendly sounds and loud noises are used for aggressiveness.

Bark – the bark is a short, high pitched, loud sound that has multiple uses. In high content wolfdogs and pures it is not often heard.  It might be used as a playful, attention getting noise or as an invitation to play.  These types of barks are generally very loud, sharp and short when they get excited about something.  It can also be an alert or warning to its pack mates.  These Warning or Alarm Barks are usually very short and followed by quiet.  A third type of bark is the Challenge Bark in which the canine feels threatened by someone or something and is attempting to threaten whatever is scaring it away.

Growl – the growl is a throaty noise that comes from deep in the chest.  This is another vocalization that you must look at the contextual signals that go along with the sound.  Some animals will emit the growl when they are excited or playful such as when you are playing tug-o-war with your dog.  But in other cases it is telling you that the animal has had enough.  It is used to show dominance or a threat or used during an attack.

Grumble – some canines will emit a low grumbling sound that seems to come from the throat to show playfulness or happiness.

Grunt – the grunt is used to show the animals is happy and content or as a sign of greeting.

Howl – the howl has a number of uses, but it is used for communicating over greater distances than other vocalizations.  The sound can be all one pitch or variable in intonation.  Some animals will sound more hoarse or raspy while others have much more of a melody to their howl. There are a variety of types of howls such as:
         Solo Howl – a single animal will let out a short howl of up to approximately 10 seconds that is followed by a pause of about the same time while they wait for a response from another pack member.  As the sun rises or sets we often hear these solo howls from our wolfdogs.  During the winter (breeding) season there is typically an increase in these types of howls.
        Chorus Howl – a group of animals begins to sing using variable sounds to harmonize with one another.  These types of howl ins last a bit longer than the Solo howl.  When a new canine arrives at our center there is usually an increase in Chorus Howls as they begin to build social bonds.

Moan – the moan can indicate pain or achiness.  It can also be used to demonstrate submission, anxiety or aggression.  This is another vocalization that you have to pay close attention to the contextual signals.


Roar – this type of sound is not often heard, but when it is it is serious.  Think of the lion's roar.  This is definitely an offensive threat and is loud and usually deep in sound.

Snarl – the snarl is not as intense as a growl but it is used as a warning or as a defensive move.

Squeak – the squeak is a form of a whimper, but has a sound that is more like a whistle.  This is most often used by overly friendly animals as they become aroused.

Squeal – the squeal is a bit like a whine, only a bit more high pitched, sharp and drawn out

Whimper – as puppies canines learn that the whimper often gains them attention so it is makes sense that they continue to use this vocalization as they mature.  The whimper is usually a consistent, higher pitched sound that is repeated over and over again.  In addition to attention getting behaviors it is also used when they become anxious or frustrated.

Whine – the whine is another attention getter for puppies.  As the animal matures it will continue to use short whines to gain affection or instigate play.  If the whine increases in tone it might also indicate fearfulness, anxiety or show submission.

Woof – the woof is a short, soft bark that is full of air typically used as a sound of alarm or fear.

Yelp - It is typically a very high pitched, short intonation vocalization.  It is another indication of fear or some sort of distress.  

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