Speak dog like this vocal English Cocker Spaniel. Image by master1305 on Freepik

How to Speak Dog: A Simple Guide


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How many times have you wished you understood dog body language and how to speak dog? 💬 You probably even wonder whether your dog really understands what you’re saying. Is it odd that they come immediately when you say “treat”, but not when you say “broccoli”? 🥦 Dog owners will attest to their canines having an entire language, including a dog body language, and they’re constantly communicating with us….or trying to!

From playful growls to ‘that’s definitely an intruder’ barks (spoiler: it’s rarely an intruder) our pawdyguards definitely know how to get vocal. Plus there are the signs that we hopefully already understand, like wagging tails or the playful bow.

For most owners, knowing the basics is fine. But for those who want to speak dog a little more fluently, we’re here. We’re not promising you’ll be the next Dr. Doolittle, but we can help you understand a little bit more of what your dog is telling you.

Now, if we could just figure out how to get them to understand when the humans say no.

Do dogs really understand what you’re saying?

If you’ve been stuck at home next to a bored dog or know when the delivery man is here because your dogs erupt in a chorus of barks (find out here: why do dogs bark?), you’ll know that they make a lot (!) of noises.

For an idea of how vocal dogs can be, check out this viral ‘talking dogs’ video:

A quick ‘speak dog’ guide to their vocal range

As your dog finds its voice in your household, you’ll experience all sorts of funny moments (and sentimental ones).

Dogs are adorable, affectionate, ready to communicate playmates who know the difference between a puppychino and a trip to the vet. If the vet gets involved, you’ll get an earful from Sir Bark-a-lot and some ruff dog body language to boot. (Check out these dog-friendly coffee shops so your pup won’t complain that you’re going out for a cuppa with pals and he’s not.)

This is a fascinating Guinness World Records fact: the New Guinea singing dog, AKA Canis familiaris hallstromi, is the dog with the most versatile vocal ability. Instead of barking, this singing dog makes yodel-like vocal sounds! Some folks prefer to describe it as a mix between a wolf’s howl and a whale song. At least we now know who’s going to woof their way to fame at the doggo version of New Zealand’s Got Talent auditions.

Back to your not so talented doggo, understanding what they want is key to a healthy doggo-pawrent relationship. Here’s a quick guide to the vocal range of your dog…

Speak dog – Howling

If you’ve ever owned some kind of hound like a Beagle or a Basset Hound, you’ll know aaaalll about the different types of howls. The Hound breed group of dogs – one of the seven groups – simply tend to howl more often.

What does howling mean in the world of dog communication?

Howls can mean lots of different things, the same way that shouting can for people.

A howl might be a call to other dogs they don’t have sight of or can’t reach. It could also be a sign of sadness or distress, such as when a dog is hurt or when they’re bored and lonely at home.

And, you’ll have noticed that a howling dog quickly turns into a howling dog choir. There’s quite a strong sign of canine affiliation associated with howling.

This vocal Gordon Setter knows how to speak dog fluently.

Speak dog – Growling

A lot of people assume that a dog growling means they’re feeling threatened or are aggressive. That can be the case, but not necessarily.

Growls actually form quite a large part of dog communication. And they can mean more than just ‘get away!’ If you’ve ever watched boisterous dogs playing with each other, there’s often a lot of growling involved. It’s a bit like kids yelling at each other in excitement on the playground.

It’s all in the pitch

When it comes to growling, pitch is important. Knowing the different growls your dog has will go a long way to helping you speak dog properly. For example, a medium-pitch growl is probably a playful rather than warning growl.

A low-pitched growl is more likely to be a warning for someone to back off or stay away. In this case, it’s obviously much better for your dog to express themselves vocally rather than physically. Read more about dog growling here.

Interestingly, the American Kennel Club did a study showing that when warning growls were played over a speaker, dogs avoided grabbing a desirable bone. However, they happily went after the bone when the speaker was playing ‘play growls’.

This Golden Retriever understands as her pawrent speaks dog.

Speak dog – Whining

The whine is your dog’s go-to for a huge amount of feelings and messages. It could mean they’re excited, scared, stressed, or asking for something. Sometimes a whine can even be a positive thing like a puppy proudly showing you that he went outside to do his business.

“If your dog is whining with no subtle cues that he is happy or needs to go outside,” Hills Pet Nutrition company, “there might be an underlying health concern for you to address.” A quick trip to the vet is best in this case.

Before we move on to more dog body language cues, let’s look at one special part – the tail! Watch the PD Pet Care vlog with Dr Cath Watson who shows you some examples of how and why dogs wag their tails:

How to understand dog body language

Hopefully, we all know that communication isn’t just verbal. Anyone who’s caught a spouse rolling their eyes at you as they say ‘that’s fine’ can confirm that sometimes actions speak louder than words.

The same is true of dogs…and yes, sorry, but even your ever-faithful dog has rolled their eyes at you before. The humans are always offering them strokes when they really want a bone.

Below we explain how to use your body language to talk to your dog, as well as to understand dog body language. Because communication is what keeps a relationship strong, right? Speaking of which, find out how to stop a dog from barking by communicating in a way they can really understand.

Eyes and face

The eyes are the window to the soul. So maybe that’s why your dog is always staring at you? Either that or it’s dinner time. Learn to use your eyes and facial expressions when communicating with your dog to level up your relationship and understand dog speak.

Ever noticed that your dog raises his little canine eyebrows when he makes eye contact? That’s a clear dog body language sign that he recognises you and is happy to see you. Try telling him that you’re happy to see him as well!

And while you’re raising your brows, did you know that keeping eye contact can actually help you bond and understand your dog? It releases oxytocin in your brain and floods you with those happy, loving emotions. Awww…! 💗

Would you like to understand the dog body language of this Garafian Shepherd? Read on.

Voice and pitch

You’ve already found out dogs themselves use different pitches to convey different meanings; we humans do it too without realising. Often, anxious dogs will avoid children who screech. Or nervous or abused dogs will cower if they hear someone shouting.

Do you use the ridiculous baby voice when you talk to your dog? Turns out, they love it. So go ahead and carry on with the high-pitched greetings and chatter with your dog.

If they need some calming or reassurance though, take it down a notch and speak softly and calmly. The same goes for if you need to issue a command or instruction. Keep your voice low and authoritative, because telling your dog to sit in a sing-song, high-pitched voice can confuse them.


There’s not much better than a good snuggle with your pooch and their dog body language will tell you they love it too. Gentle strokes are a way for your dog to bond with you and for you to show love and understand one another. Remember that you should only stroke a dog who initiates contact – unwelcome touch isn’t appreciated by either dogs or people.

Using touch is a great tool to tell your dog that you love them, to reassure them that everything is ok. Or even to convey excitement and happiness. You don’t have to speak dog like a pro to know that most dogs respond well to a scratch on the shoulder or chest.

A dog that trusts you will let you stroke the soft fur behind his ears, something that strengthens your bond. And in case you were wondering, your dog does enjoy the attention. Stroking and touching Rover in a way that he enjoys helps him to feel loved, and to love you back.

More dog learning for keen pet parents

After you read this, find out more about dog body language when it comes to what a dog wagging his tail means. You might be surprised at how many meanings there are!

That’s right, we sure do love dogs (and cats!) 🐾. Have a look at some of our fun and informative dog-related articles:

  1. Prowling Pets: How to Keep Cats and Dogs from Wandering
  2. High, Mid and Low Energy Dogs – Which Woof is Your Match?
  3. 5 Small Dog Breeds for Apartment Living
  4. How Do I Fix My Dog’s Broken Dew Claw?
  5. Meet These Famous Dogs of Instagram and Create Your Own with Our Tips!
  6. Get to Know the Bernese Mountain Dog
Don't ever shush your French Bulldog. Would you appreciate being shushed? Rather understand your dog's body language for clues.

Speak fluent dog with dog insurance

Another way to tell your dog you care is to get pet insurance. That way, you know you can get medical treatment for them whenever they need it. There’s nothing like a bit of TLC to feel the love when they’re under the weather!

Toting Canstar’s 2022 Most Satisfied Customers – Pet Insurance Award, PD Insurance is a safe place to safeguard your pet. Protect your finances with our tail-ored dog insurance that can cover treatment for illnesses, injuries, allergies, dental and more. Wherever you are in New Zealand, whichever qualified vet you want.

We make it easy for you to make fast, care-based health decisions and we pay your claim within two business days. 

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