Every now and then, my GSD Lady will bark. Not a "dammit what was that for, Joy" kind of bark (always the result of aggressive behaviour on Joy's part, which takes Lady by surprise. Really, Joy can be such a bitch!). Or the RaRaRa "we're going for a walk" bark. But just a bark. At nothing. For no reason.
It makes me wonder what goes on inside that crazy doggle head of hers, and I have boiled it down to the following:
1. The continuous rapid barking is all guard dog. It means: “Call the pack! Danger Danger. The perimeter may be breached!" This can be followed by the raising of hackels and/or a slower,lower pitched growl or bark, meaning "the perimeter has been breached. Prepare to defend" or a higher, insane bark of frustration "the mail carrier has arrived. Dammit! the door is in the way. Why do I not have opposable thumbs! Aaarrghh!."
2. Three or four barks in rapid succession, followed by a break, then another staccato outburst usually indicates there is a level of discomfort or distrust with a situation: "There may be a problem. I am not sure of this situation." Lady does this incessantly in the car, and it can be quite melodic if you just let go, relax and let the noise of it all surround you - Ruh Ruh RuhRuhRuh. Repeat. I'm thinking of turning it into some kind of a GSD rap. Stay tuned!
3. Prolonged or incessant barking, with a break between each woof, usually indicates some displeasure. This is the bark I've noticed the neighbours complain most about, and it means “Hey, where are you? Is there anybody here? Pay attention to me.” In our house, this bark is usually done while perched over the back of the couch, staring out the window. It can occasionally and without warning escalate into continuous rapid barking (see #1) if another dog has the temerity to pass by the fence.
4. One or two sharp short barks usually means “Hello there!” I've noticed many bigger dogs eschew this type of behaviour, leaving it to their small, toy and miniature counterparts. Some, like Joy, prefer to do this with the support of some kind of prop (a shoe carelessly left around, socks, or a stuffed toy are prefered) for a more muffled, smiley effect. I believe she feels it makes her more endearing.5. A single sharp bark or yelp can mean "Stop that!", "WTF?" or "Emergency! Emergency! Must go.Out. NOW!" If this escalates into a series of yelps or whimpers, it is an indicator of real pain or fear, and should be handled immediately, gently and appropriately. If it stops suddenly (particularly in the middle of the night), it means "oh, ok, no worries. I did it on the floor".
6. The gruff stuttering bark, usually accompanied by a "head and front down, the back end tail up" posture, is the universal dog language for "Come on! Let's play!" and can be followed by an excited or demanding bark, a play bark, meaning "this is fun" or "hurry up and throw it again!" Incidentally, this excited barking can be just as annoying and poorly received as the loney bark (see #3).
There are other barks that seem to be more individual to the dog. Joy has a low growly rolling bark that starts in the back of her throat when you ask her to speak. I'm convinced she is trying to mimic actual words when doing this. Lady makes a "face-rub howl" like a wookie when her face is rubbed that tells me "oooo. That's the spot!" And of course, there is the emergency services vehicle howl.
Dogs are animals capable of communicating a wealth of meaning with few words. Barking is not only effective and efficient, it translates across barriers. And, under certain circumstances, can produce almost immediate results! Listen to what your dog is telling you - you'll enjoy each other's company and spirit that much more.