How to Train a Dog

By: Dr. William Fortney

Interpreting Dog Barks and Noise

Body language is generally a silent method of communication (with the exception of the play bow), but dogs use their voices, too. They bark, whine, growl, and howl to get their point across. Barking is probably the most familiar sound dogs make. In the wild, only young wolves, coyotes, and foxes bark, but when dogs were domesticated, barking was one of the puppylike characteristics people liked and looked for when they were choosing which dogs to keep.

Now dogs bark to say, "howdy," "pay attention to me," or to warn of trouble ahead. Some dogs bark when they're bored or lonely. Be careful how you respond to a dog's bark, or you might never get her to stop. Excited dogs love to bark, and if you yell at them to stop, they might just think you're barking back. You'll actually be teaching them barking is okay -- just the opposite of the lesson you want them to learn!


One of the first sounds a young dog makes is a whine or a whimper to get her mother's attention. Mom feeds or comforts her when she whines, and soon the puppy learns people respond to that sound, too -- especially when she wants to eat dinner or go for a walk. Dogs may also whine if they're frightened by loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks.

Whining is cute when a puppy does it, but sometimes it gets to be too much. If your dog's whining becomes annoying, remember what you learned about how to stop barking. Instead of petting or comforting a whining dog, ignore her until she's quiet. Then reward her silence with praise or petting.

A growl is probably the easiest canine sound to understand. Growling dogs are giving notice that their ready to attack if you don't back off. Growling is a serious sign of aggression that shouldn't be ignored or laughed off. Don't let your dog get away with growling at you or anyone else, such as your veterinarian or groomer. Call in a professional trainer or behaviorist to help you evaluate the situation and get things under control.

Everyone is familiar with the universal image of a canine -- wild or pet -- howling at the moon. The howl communicates excitement, warning, loneliness, or desire. Hounds howl when they have cornered their prey. Lonely dogs howl just to see if anyone else is out there. Howling in dogs is also as contagious as yawning in humans: When one dog howls, any other dog within earshot is likely to join in.

Now it's time to consider some of your own messages -- those used to train your dog. We'll present dog-training tips in the next section.