Posted by Pet Honesty on

Do Dogs Have Vocal Cords?

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Do Dogs Have Vocal Cords?

Although the noises they make are notably different from human speech patterns, the internal vocal structures of dogs are not too different from our human ones. Like us humans, our dogs have vocal cords aka vocal folds, which are the long smooth bands of muscle in the larynx (voice box). Our dogs also have lungs for inhaling/exhaling air, larynxes, and a vocal tract. Dogs use their vocal cords to bark as well as to create the symphony of “other dog sounds” that any pet owner knows well. Although they have similar physiological structures related to voice, our pets obviously do not speak or use language in the same way that humans do, although many hours have gone into attempting to train dogs in this ability. When it comes down to it, our pups just don’t have the cognitive abilities required for verbal speech. 

Why Do Dogs Bark?

Dogs bark in order to communicate, but the answer as to who they are communicating with may surprise you. Dogs developed the bark as a way to communicate with the people in their lives. Barking for communication shows a separation from their most recent animal ancestor, the wolf, who only howls and does not bark. Wolf communication within the pack is primarily nonverbal and the same is true of communication between dogs today. Evolution suggests that dogs developed barking over thousands of years of evolution in order to vocalize their needs/wants with their human families (that’s us!). Your pet may not be able to “use her words” when communicating with you, but very rarely is a dog barking for “no reason.” 

What is it that is your dog trying to say to you? Here is a guide to types of dog vocalization and what they mean:

  1. Alerting - The Amazon delivery man is walking up to the door, and your pup is determined to let you (and ALL of the neighbors) know all about it! This type of barking is intended to both alert members of the household as well as scare off a stranger and is typically short, fast, and continuous.
  2. Expressing Frustration - ``Excuse me, but I pushed my toy too far under the couch” is not likely to jump out of your pup’s mouth anytime soon, but you may hear a choppy, repetitive bark from down the hallway. This signals frustrated barking, and your dog would really appreciate it if you would drop everything and please rescue their toy.
  3. Greeting - Your puppy is soooooo happy to see you...or whoever else may have just pulled into the garage. This type of barking is typically one or two short high barks and is usually accompanied by plenty of tail wagging.
  4. Frightened - Something strange is going on, and it's making your pet nervous. Is your doggie making a low-pitched, slow, and continuous bark? This can signal fear; most recently, my dog Hailey was making this bark for a few minutes prior to the arrival of a very unexpected thunderstorm.
  5. Lonely - Can anybody hear meeeeeeee? This type of barking resembles a howl as it is a high-pitched, long, and uninterrupted vocalization. Lonely barking is common in new puppies that have just been brought into their human home as well as in dogs with separation anxiety.
  6. Play Barking - Dog bark during play for pretty much the same reason that humans like to scream on roller coasters…because it feels good! (and it's a socially acceptable time to do so) Play barking is loud and spaced out
  7. Attention Seeking - Sometimes it really is that straight-forward, and your dog is just barking at you because they want to get your attention. Attention barking is usually
  8. Other - There are several other reasons that your dog may be barking including pain, aggression, or even a combination of the other reasons listed above. 


Just like their animal ancestor the wolf, our domesticated dogs also use body language and non-verbal cues to communicate their intentions and their needs. If your pup is barking and you cannot decipher the reason that they are “speaking to you,” pay attention to their body language and other signs. Similar to a human baby who is not yet verbal, your dog may be expressing a need. Is it time for a meal? Dogs have a surprisingly well-tuned internal clock as daylight savings time always reminds us. Your pup may also be letting you know that they need to be taken outside for a bathroom break or simply, that they are bored and need more exercise.

Excessive Barking May Signal Underlying Health Issue

If your dog has suddenly started barking more frequently than before, be on the lookout for changes in other health indicators like their stool or sleeping patterns. Sometimes our four-legged friends are trying to communicate that they are in pain from an injury or suffering from a disease. Anytime your dog displays a quick and comprehensive change in their behavior, including excessive barking, it is a good idea to consult with your vet to rule out more serious causes. 


Debarking Surgery Inhumane for Canines

Debarking or devocalization is a cruel surgical procedure where tissue is removed from the dog’s vocal cords to permanently reduce the volume of their barks. Because barking is a natural canine behavior and a primary method of communication for canines, disabling or muting this vocalization reduces their ability to participate in the world majorly decreasing their quality of life.  A debarking surgery may make your pup less noisy in terms of volume, but they will still continue to try to bark. The sound of devocalized “barking” is a muffled, restricted sound that sounds similar to wheezing. Currently, surgical devocalization of dogs is illegal in the UK as well as in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and parts of Rhode Island. Many of the issues that owners think will be solved with a debark surgery can be adequately addressed with adequate training.