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My Dog Has 7 Different Barks — Here’s What They Mean!

Riggins employs a variety of vocalizations to get his point across, from the "play with me" bark to the "back off" bark.

Wendy Newell  |  Feb 18th 2016


My 10-year-old German Shorthair Pointer mix has a lot to say. Although Riggins’ barks just sound scary to most people, I know their real meaning.

Parents of human babies seem to know what their baby is trying to say, even though all I hear is a cry. A friend will tell me, “That’s his hungry cry.” How do they know that? It’s just a high-pitched wail!

Riggins is my baby. Although his barks baffle many people, I’m happy to interpret for him. I have no problem understanding my baby boy.

1. The “play with me” bark

Riggins and his friend Shadow demonstrate the stance that is often accompanied with the "play with me bark." (All photos by Wendy Newell)

Riggins and his friend Shadow demonstrate the stance that accompanies the “play with me” bark. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

This is, by far, Riggins’ most common bark. It’s what you will most likely hear if the door is open and you choose to walk by our house. Riggins is a big dog, and his bark is deep, resonating from his big barrel chest. For that reason, it often scares those it is aimed at instead of inviting them up for play.

Since I’m a dog sitter, this is also the bark my clients hear when they drop off or pick up their baby. This is especially true of our regulars. Of course, those who don’t know better are told, “That’s his hello bark” before I open the door. Once open, Riggins makes a beeline for them and forces his head under their hand for some pets.

2. The “stranger danger” bark

High alert often means the "stranger danger bark" is going to be coming!

High alert often means the “stranger danger” bark is coming! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

To me, Riggins’ “hello” bark and “stranger danger” bark sound completely different. The “stranger” bark comes with a deep, meaningful growl, and has a staccato ending that pierces the eardrums. It is meant to scare an intruder, and it does a pretty good job of that!

The people who receive the “stranger danger” bark the most are the mail and package carriers. There is a specific FedEx man who refuses to come to the door, but instead will stand at a comfortable distance and chuck the packages up onto our porch. I can’t blame him. It does sound like Riggins is going to rip him to shreds.

3. The “I’m starving” bark

You can bet he started his "I'm starving bark" during this photo session that included treats.

You can bet he started his “I’m starving” bark during this photo session that included treats. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

This bark can come at any time because Riggins is ALWAYS starving. He would be happy if he could sleep in a pile of kibble and randomly open up his mouth so some could fall in now and then. A friend recently asked me if Riggins had a tapeworm. Nope. Just an endless appetite.

Riggins tells me when he is ready for his breakfast, dinner, and after-dinner snack. He does this with a series of short punctuated woofs. WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF. It’s meant to gain my attention and keep it until he is given what he wants. It’s annoying and very effective.

4. The “love me” bark

When Riggins asks to cuddle you do it.

When Riggins asks to cuddle, you cuddle. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

This isn’t so much a bark as a whimper. When Riggins wants some extra love, he will come up to me, look into my eyes, and let out a little yet forceful whimper. I don’t know how he would elevate the little cry if I ignored him. It’s never happened. I can’t ignore him when he wants extra love.

5. The “girls are smelly” bark


One of our regular dog guests is a female Blue Picardy Spaniel named Sissy. Sissy LOVES Riggins, and despite his protesting, he loves her right back. When Sissy and her brother, Happy, get to the house, they are ushered straight to the backyard for some bathroom time before coming inside. Riggins always demands to go see them.

Once together, Sissy’s main goal is to cover Riggins’ face in kisses. Riggins reacts like a kindergarten boy with a “girls have cooties” head turn and grumble. It’s actually starts with a grumble, then transforms into a little whine, and then is sometimes punctuated with a sharp bark. It’s done with him turning his head back and forth, as if to say, “Come on. Stop it. Not in public.” I know he secretly loves it, though!

The video above shows their kisses. Take a look and feel free to giggle at his silliness.

6. The “back off” bark

"I"m drinking so you better back off!"

“I”m drinking so you better back off!” (Photo by Wendy Newell)

One of the reasons why I think Riggins secretly likes Sissy’s kisses and attention is because his verbal reaction is so much different than his “back off” bark. The “back off” bark means business, and is rarely challenged by the dog it’s aimed at. It has actually been known to cause dogs to back away slowly. It often is triggered by a dog getting too close when Riggins is sniffing around food or just wants some well-deserved alone time.

This outburst is an impressive combo of growl and bark, which unmistakably means, “BACK OFF!”

7. The “help me, Mommy” bark

Puppy Riggins vs. the swimming pool. Thankfully there was a happy ending.

Puppy Riggins vs. the swimming pool. Thankfully there was a happy ending. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I haven’t heard this often, but I can remember a very specific example of this heart-wrenching vocalization. Riggins was just a puppy, under 1 year old. We had gone to a friends house for dinner. In an attempt to train both our pups to stay outside and be calm while we were eating, Riggins was put out back to hang with his Lab buddy. Riggins wasn’t having any of it and cried at the door almost nonstop. “Just ignore him,” I suggested while silently pleading with him to stop.

Then all of a sudden his cries turned into desperate, sharp barks. I instantly knew something was wrong, jumped out of my chair, and threw open the sliding-glass back door. Riggins had fallen into the pool and was holding onto the side with his teeny tiny paws. I scooped him up and hugged him close.

Mommies always know what their babies are saying. Even when their babies are furry!

How does your dog talk to you? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.