Translating Puppy Talk: 5 Things Your Puppy is Trying to Tell You · The Wildest

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Listen Up! Your Puppy Is Trying to Talk to You

How to make sense of all those grunts and whines.

by Daniela Lopez
Updated January 12, 2023
Jack Russell puppy grunting while laying on blanket and crying out
Karoline Thalhofer / Adobe Stock

From the moment they pick up their new pup, most pet parents are convinced their dog is trying to tell them something: Did that grumble sound just like Mom?That was definitely it! If only they came with a translator. It’s true that dogs are social creatures and communicate their feelings with us through sounds and body language. In a puppy’s first weeks, they’ll begin to yelp, whine, and grunt before growing and moving into more rich and complex communication methods. Learning puppy speak helps you better care for your puppy — and build on that dialogue as they age.

“The better you understand how [your puppy] experiences their world, the less likely you’ll be to become frustrated or angry (and perhaps treat your charge unfairly),“ says Nicholas Dodman in his book, Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-Dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Puppy. “And, ultimately, the better and stronger the bond between the two of you will be.”

Get started decoding puppy speak — here are five explanations to help you decipher the meaning behind their body language and vocalizations.


When a puppy whines, that sweet little sound threatens to bring tears to our eyes. One study even found that the whimpers of a puppy feel more sad to pet parents than the sound of a crying baby. Puppies will whine when they are in need — your puppy may be cold, lonely, or hungry. Try to comfort them with attention, food, or even a warm towel, and you’ll find they’ll probably stop.


Puppies grunt for various reasons, but it’s something they do while they are relaxed and content. You’ll find puppies grunting when eating, sleeping, or being petted because they enjoy it.

Circles Before Sleeping

As you get ready for bed, you fluff your pillow and pull back your sheets. Dogs have a similar sleep routine of circling and stomping around. It’s believed this primal instinctive behavior helped wild dogs prepare and flatten their grass bedding before sleep.

Licking Lips

Dogs will often lick their lips when they are nervous or anxious. You can help your pup by finding the source of their anxiety and using techniques to calm them.

Moving Away From Head Pats

This might be a surprise to you, but many dogs don’t like head pats. Dogs love to be stroked, pet, and scratched but not necessarily patted, and there’s an important difference.

daniela lopez

Daniela Lopez

Daniela Lopez is a digital media specialist and long-time contributor to The Bark.

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