9 Weird Noises Dogs Make & What They Mean

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young dog whining in the arms of a veterinarian

From barking, howling and whining to snoring, snorting and sneezing, our dogs can make an impressive variety of noises. But what do they mean? Most of these sounds are completely normal – if sometimes a little quirky. Let’s review some of the weird noises dogs make, why they make them and whether you need to worry.

Why it is important to understand your dog’s noises?

Dogs have two main ways of communicating: their body language and the sounds they make. Understanding these signals is essential to building a good relationship with any dog and can help you to keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible.

As well as deliberate vocalisations, dogs can make a range of other noises, some of which could indicate a health issue. Understanding when (and when not) to worry can help you to keep your dog as healthy as possible.

Common noises – what do they mean?

1. Barking

Barking is the main form of vocal communication in dogs – but the meaning can vary a lot depending on the context.

Possible meanings include:

  • Joy
  • Excitation
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Alarm
  • Aggression

Clearly context is critical when interpreting your dog’s barks! A dog who is wagging their tail and showing relaxed body language is likely to be happy or, if they’re bouncing around, excited. A dog whose tail is down or who is snarling or raising their hackles is likely to be showing fear or even anxiety. Dogs often use a higher pitch when barking in excitement and a lower pitch if they are fearful or responding to a perceived threat.

Read more about interpreting your dog’s barks.

Why your old dog might be barking more than usual – and how to help

2. Howling

Dogs can also howl and again, this can be for a variety of reasons. Some dogs and breeds are more prone to howling than others – Huskies are especially keen on this form of vocalisation! Dogs often howl for fun, joining in with passing sirens, singing humans or other noises. However, they can also indicate that your dog is asking for attention or trying to make contact with other dogs (or humans).

If your dog commonly howls when left alone or in specific situations this may be a sign of stress, anxiety (e.g. separation anxiety) or loneliness.

3. Growling

Although growling is much less common than barking, it’s a sound we’re all familiar with. This is one sound that shouldn’t be ignored. Many dogs will growl as part of their normal communication, for example while playing. This can be a positive sign that your dog is really getting into the game! However, it’s critical to assess every growl your dog gives you in context. 

If your dog is stressed, a growl could be a precursor to a bite – even in the friendliest dog. Sadly, our dogs can’t talk, and we often miss the subtle body language they use to show stress (like yawning or rolling over to show their belly). If a dog grumbles or growls in a situation in which we think they should be fine, we often ignore it, or worse tell the dog off. In the long run, this can mean they give up on growling – and we get no warning before a bite happens. 

In the clinic, owners often tell me to ignore their dog having a grumble or a growl because ‘he’d never bite’ – often just before he attempts to bite one of us! Even the sweetest of dogs may feel forced to bite if they are put in an incredibly stressful situation and we fail to respond to their signals. We don’t just see this in the clinic – it happens regularly in real life, especially when children are involved, and sadly often results in significant injuries. Remember to always monitor your dog for signs of stress and if they’re growling or grumbling give them the space they’re asking for.

If your dog suddenly starts to growl more than normal it’s worth seeing your vet as this could indicate that your dog is in pain. 

Read more about how to interpret dogs’ body language. 

4. Whining

Whining is typically due to anxiety (including separation anxiety), fear or pain. If your dog starts whining more than normal, it’s worth getting them checked out to make sure there’s nothing to be worried about. Many dogs, however, have also learned to use whining as a tool – it can certainly be quite effective when used to beg for attention, treats or titbits! 

Dog Whining For Attention YouTube

5. Snoring, snorting and wheezing

Like humans, dogs can occasionally produce some unusual noises due to their breathing. The most common of these is snoring – and just like humans, this is often completely benign. You may also notice your dog occasionally snorting, for example if some water has gone the wrong way. However, just as humans with severe snoring or other unusual breathing noises need to get checked for conditions like sleep apnoea, dogs making these noises may have underlying health issues. 

The most common condition associated with increased snoring, snorting and wheezing sounds is Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). Brachycephalic breeds have shorter muzzles, where the tissues of the head, neck and airways have been compressed into a smaller space1. This includes French Bulldogs, Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers and more. You can easily find videos of these dogs online snoring so much they wake themselves up, sleeping with a toy wedging their mouth open, collapsing during exercise or making excessive snorting noises when breathing. Sadly, these are often seen as ‘normal for the breed’ or even entertaining, overlooking the suffering many of these poor dogs experience on a daily basis. 

Treatment for these problems is often possible – so if you suspect your dog might be affected it’s definitely worth seeing your vet, ideally with some videos of the noises. If your dog isn’t brachycephalic, an increase in these sorts of noises could indicate other underlying respiratory disease. 

A good rule of thumb for whether to be worried about these sorts of noises is to think whether you would be concerned if a human made similar noises. A bit of light snoring or the occasional snort is generally fine, but if your dog is consistently struggling to sleep, making a lot of noise breathing on walks or at rest, or wheezing and struggling to exercise then they need to see a vet.

Learn more about BOAS from The Kennel Club or read more about surgical treatment of BOAS.

6. Coughing and honking

Coughing is usually due to either irritation or obstruction of the airway. This can be benign – an itchy throat due to dust or some water that’s gone the wrong way. However, if you notice your dog coughing more than normal, it could indicate an underlying health issue. 

If coughing comes on acutely, your vet will be concerned about infections like kennel cough. If it’s severe, they might also consider foreign bodies (like a bit of stick stuck in the back of the throat) or pneumonia. 

A mild infection with kennel cough will cause a loud, harsh cough that resolves over 7-14 days. Just like a cold in humans isn’t usually something to worry about – though you should avoid other dogs in this time. It can be worth getting your dog checked by a vet who can make sure there’s nothing else going on and prescribe medications like anti-inflammatories for pain relief.

A more persistent cough may be caused by conditions like chronic bronchitis or tracheal collapse. These are more common in older dogs. Tracheal collapse in particular causes a characteristic honking cough.

If you notice that your dog is distressed, lethargic, coughing persistently or severely or showing any other abnormal signs, it’s worth seeing your vet. 

7. Reverse sneezing

Reverse sneezing is not uncommon but can be alarming to owners! It’s usually completely benign and nothing to worry about, although it can be a little unpleasant. Your dog will make a repetitive nasal snorting sound, although the noise is generated by inhaling rather than exhaling (hence reverse sneezing!). 

It’s caused by irritation within the upper airways which results in a spasm that can go on for several minutes. It should settle by itself, although some owners help their dog to stop by briefly covering their nostrils one at a time (for less than 5 seconds). 

Occasional reverse sneezing is normal but if you notice your dog is particularly distressed or the sneezing is increasing in frequency, it’s worth seeing a vet as something may be causing increased airway irritation.2

8. Hiccups

Dogs can also get hiccups – usually due to eating or drinking too fast, swallowing air, playing vigorously or becoming over-excited. The diaphragm goes into spasm causing the rapid, involuntary breaths that result in that classic ‘hic’ sound. These can be a little uncomfortable or annoying but aren’t painful and should pass uneventfully. 

9. Gagging, hacking and retching

Like coughing, these noises can be a relatively normal response to irritation of the throat – but if they are severe or persistent they may indicate your dog has something stuck in their throat or that they are suffering from a condition like kennel cough or a gastrointestinal issue. If your dog makes a noise like this keep an eye on them and make sure it settles quickly – if they continue to make this noise or make it repeatedly, ring your vet for more advice on how urgently you should be seen. If a dog has a foreign object stuck in their throat, this can be an emergency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my dog make weird noises when he eats?

Some dogs enjoy their food a little too much – and if they’re scarfing it in no time, this may be a little noisy. Other dogs may enjoy their food so much they choose to make some noise to show their appreciation.

You should see your vet if you notice that your dog seems to be choking or struggling when eating, or they gag, retch or regurgitate shortly afterwards. Taking a video of them eating to show your vet is especially helpful – and if you’re not sure if the noises your dog makes are an issue (and your dog is otherwise happy and healthy), you can ask your vet at a routine check-up.

Is it normal for my dog to snore?

For many dogs, light snoring or occasional snoring when they’re particularly fast asleep is perfectly normal. For some dogs, however, it can be a sign that they’re struggling due to compromised airways. See above for more details of when to be concerned by your dog’s breathing noises.

Why does my dog howl at sirens?

Many dogs enjoy ‘joining in’ when they hear noises like sirens or some music. It’s important to assess your dog’s behaviour though. Some dogs are sensitive to loud noises and may be howling due to fear or anxiety. If your dog seems upset by loud noises, it’s worth looking into desensitisation training and potentially working with a behaviourist to help them.

How can I stop my dog barking or howling?

Barking and howling have so many possible causes it’s impossible to give a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Evidence suggests that training using desensitisation and positive reinforcement techniques is much more effective than any punishment-based training (e.g. shock collars) which can be very unpleasant for dogs and isn’t recommended.

If you’re struggling with unwanted behaviours, working with a reputable trainer or certified dog behaviourist can be a good way to reduce them while maintaining a strong bond with your dog.

Read more

Top Causes of Dogs Sneezing and Wheezing

Why Does My Dog Cough After Drinking Water? [A Vet Explains]

Natural Remedies for Dog Anxiety


  1. Packer, Rowena M., et al. “Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome.” PLOS ONE, vol. 10, no. 10, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0137496. 
  2. Talavera, Jesús, et al. “Reverse Sneezing in Dogs: Observational Study in 30 Cases.” Veterinary Sciences, vol. 9, no. 12, 2022, p. 665, https://doi.org/10.3390/vetsci9120665. 


  • Dr. Primrose Moss, Vet Surgeon

    Dr. Moss graduated from the prestigious University of Cambridge in England with a Bachelor's of Veterinary Medicine and a Master's in Zoology. She is currently a veterinary surgeon at Avonvale Veterinary Centres in the UK. Her aim is to provide reliable and accessible information to pet owners, enabling them to make better informed decisions about their pets' care.

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Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.

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