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What does “woof” actually mean?


If you have a dog, you probably sometimes wish your pet could talk. But sometimes - when the doorbell rings, the mail arrives or a cat walks by - you wish your dog would keep his deafening barking to himself.

Dog barking is a fact of life. Expecting a dog to never raise its voice or act according to its nature is unrealistic. And knowing how to interpret barking, whining and growling will give you a pretty good insight into your dog's feelings.

Below is a simple guide to decoding your dog's language (and some tips on how to tell him enough is enough).

<h2 class="c-blog_head" id="Custom" data-headline="Whining / Whimpering"><span class="first_id_number"></span>Whining / Whimpering</h2>

The first thing you should do is use your own judgement. If your dog makes a small, sad whine or a high-pitched, distressed whimper, you should make sure he is not uncomfortable or in pain. Did he hurt himself while playing or does he have a stomach ache due to an internal illness or because he ate a toy? If the animal is barking or whimpering while lying down, it may actually be in distress or unable to get up. If you feel that something is really wrong, make an appointment with Rex (

However, sometimes whining is a sign that a less drastic physical need is not being met. They may be thirsty and need clean water in their bowl. Maybe it's close to dinner time and they really, really, really don't want you to forget. Maybe their favourite toy is under the sofa or out of reach.

You can also make your life a little easier by learning to understand your dog's specific body language when he needs to go to the toilet. If he makes strong eye contact with his whine, you know he has to go really, really badly.

In fact, vocalisations combined with behaviour or movement can be a valuable form of communication. And if you pay attention to your dog's posture in relaxed situations, you can be more attuned to physical behaviours associated with aggressive barking, such as direct eye contact and ear posture.

<h2 class="c-blog_head" id="Custom 2" data-headline="Bark"><span class="first_id_number"></span>Bark</h2>

Dogs bark for many reasons, and each bark can have different tones and sounds. Tuning your ear to the pitch and urgency of the barking will go a long way to helping you judge the best way to respond.

Aggression: Aggressive barking is a dog's way of establishing its role in the pack or defending itself when it is afraid. Professional advice from an animal behaviourist is often needed to overcome these behaviours.

Alert: Is something wrong and does your dog or someone else need help? If you don't know why your dog is barking, it's worth getting to the bottom of it.

Fear or anxiety: If your dog barks at fireworks or thunder, or because he is alone, he is not happy. Again, an animal behaviourist can work with you to eliminate the trigger.

Attention seeking: If your dog associates doorbells, phones or work with a lack of attention, he may be barking to get you to focus on him instead.

Boredom: When dogs don't have enough to do, they can easily become anxious and bark to get attention.

Play instinct: Many dogs have a special "play bark" to get into fights with their favourite toy or with other dogs while playing.

Senility: Some older dogs just bark. Speak to a vet/veterinary surgeon at Rex if you notice any age-related changes in behaviour.

Surprise: Wouldn't you yelp if someone suddenly woke you up or stepped on your toe?

Territoriality: If your dog barks at the post, he probably associates the sound with someone or something coming into "his" house.

<h2 class="c-blog_head" id="Custom" data-headline="How to calm your dog"><span class="first_id_number"></span>How to calm your dog</h2>

Knowing why your dog is barking - or at least having a guess - is key to changing the behaviour (and possibly having better relationships with your neighbours). General obedience training is a good start, as your dog will know to watch you for commands and positive reinforcement. Start with "sit", "stay" and "look at me" when there are no distractions, and use these commands to redirect your pet when he hits the "bark switch".

As always, positive reinforcement of the desired behaviour is a good approach. Reward your dog when he obeys your command - you'll see how quickly he learns!