Skip to main content

Is Your Dog’s Bark Happy, Sad, or Anxious?

Written by Anna Hollisey


Wet collie barking at the beach

Next time your dog barks, listen carefully. Is the bark high or low-pitched? Does it sound harsh or smooth? Is it emitted at speed and volume? These are the clues that will help you to identify whether your dog’s bark is happy, sad, or anxious. 

Do Dogs Bark in Code?

Dogs are pack animals. Just like body language, their barks help them to communicate their feelings and concerns.

A research team led by Maros & Pongracz showed that dogs can tell the difference between different types of barks coming from other dogs. In tests, the listening dogs experienced a faster heart rate when they could hear a dog barking at a stranger, or because they’d been left alone. (The researchers played neutral sounds and barks as well.)

What about dog owners? Can humans understand the ‘codes’ hidden in the acoustic features of our dogs’ barks, too? In other words… if you’re in another room, can you guess what your dog’s ‘saying’ when they bark?

Research has shown that we can. Several studies have shown that humans can pick up clues from the bark’s tone, pitch and speed, and accurately guess what the dog is ‘saying’.

In a study published in 2005, Pongracz et al reported that humans have a natural instinct for interpreting dog barks – whether they are pet-owners or not. In this test, each person was asked to categorize a series of barks in one of five classes: aggressiveness, fear, despair, playfulness, or happiness. They all produced similar results, showing that “dog barks may present a functional system for communication in the dog–human relationship.” 

How Can We Identify a Happy Bark?

When our dog is barking in joy, we know. Of course, we’re also observing other happy signals – a wagging tail, alert eyes, and relaxed stance. If we heard that same bark in isolation, would we still know it meant, “I am happy”? There are three key acoustic qualities which help us to interpret the ‘code’ in a dog’s bark:


In the study by Pongracz, the highest-pitched barks were emitted when the dogs were left alone. Play-barks and going-for-a-walk barks were also moderately high-pitched. Low pitched barks were issued by dogs who sensed a stranger or were showing aggression. 

Number or duration of barks.

One or a cluster of barks is likely to indicate surprise or excitement. But a regular, persistent bark suggests that something is wrong (whether that’s being left in the car, or an intruder – which could be animal or human). 


When do our dogs emit the fastest barks? Studies have shown that they speed up their barks during play – and when they sense an intruder. Dogs barked more slowly when they were approaching an aggressive dog. 

Bark-Spotter’s Guide 

Danger warning: Low and slow barks indicate danger or warnings. Some dogs bark just once in warning. A lower pitch is usually associated with aggression. 

Happiness or Excitement: Fast barks indicate adrenaline (excitement or fear), and high-pitched barks are happier. The rhythm may be irregular. 

Anxiety or Fear: A fast, consistent, high-pitched bark which goes on for a long time is typical of anxiety. 

How to Manage a Dog Who Barks When Left Alone

Separation anxiety is a major cause of persistent barking./learn/dog-training/how-to-stop-dog-barking-when-left-alone It’s heartbreaking when your dog becomes distraught after you leave and, in some circumstances, can make it difficult for owners to go out at all. 

It’s a form of anxiety, which means that your dog is suffering from hormonal imbalance (often triggered by fear) and responding accordingly. 

So it is important to try different methods of management. For instance, steady desensitization training/learn/dog-training/separation-anxiety-training-advice-for-dogs has been known to help some dogs – this is a bit like “reprogramming” them to prevent the fear response when you pick up your keys. 

For all-round health and hormone balance, try an anti-anxiety supplement like The One/products/the-one, which contains L-Theanine and Ashwagandha to boost serotonin and reduce cortisol.

Read More

Get expert advice in our comprehensive article about training your dog to handle alone-time/learn/dog-health/a-veterinarians-guide-to-canine-separation-anxiety