My Dog Only Talks To Big Dogs

Do you remember the scene in 101 Dalmatians where the dogs passed along the news of the stolen puppies by barking at twilight?

Well if Honey had been one of the dogs in the movie, those puppies would never have been found. Because my dog Honey only talks to big dogs.

Honey the golden retriever only talks to big dogs.

I only talk to big dogs. Do I think I’m superior to little dogs?

Barking To Friends

We’ve always lived in a city or town. So we don’t encourage Honey to bark.

But we understand that if another dog in the neighborhood starts barking, it’s foolish to think Honey would never feel the need to reply.

The crazy thing was that back in Ithaca, she only barked at friends.

Any random dog barking in the neighborhood did not attract her notice. But when Riley, the handsome golden retriever who lived two yards away barked, Honey always replied.

Honey the golden retriever chases Riley with her toy.

I know I’m too little for you now, Riley. But I’ll grow up soon.

In fact, she sounded kind of desperate.

I’d swear she was saying “Woof, I love you Riley.” “Bark, bark, please come over and play with me.” “Yip, don’t you love me anymore?”

Riley totally ignored her. He only barked at the pittie who lived on the other side of his fence.

Until he saw Honey on a walk, he paid no attention to her barking whatsoever.

Barking To Strangers

The neighborhood we’re staying in temporarily has a few dogs.

In fact, a house across the street has (three?) West Highland terriers that bark every night when they’re let out for a break before bed.

Heck, they bark any time they’re let out. And when someone comes to the door. And just to exercise their lungs.

Honey has not barked back once.

Honey the golden retriever sits in a box.

Those little dogs are just a bunch of gossips. If they saw me sitting in this box, the whole world would know by tomorrow.

Last night, she didn’t even lift her head from the floor when the evening bark fest started.

And that highly reactive cairn terrier that we see on walks explodes when he sees Honey. She totally ignores him.

But if we hear a large woof from off in the distance, no matter how far, Honey always barks back.

Last night, before the terriers started, we heard the faint barking of a large dog on another street. And Honey let out a woof before rushing to the screen door to look for the pup she was talking to.

She responds the same way any time she hears a large dog barking. Even though she has never met him or her.

Dogs To Reply To; Dogs To Ignore

I’m not surprised that Honey responds to every large dog in the neighborhood when she barked only at dogs she knew in Ithaca.

Things are uncertain and I expect to see small changes in Honey’s behavior.

But why doesn’t she bark at all dogs? Why does she only return barks to dogs that sound big?

Perhaps big dogs and small dogs speak different dialects?

I have noticed that Honey communicates better with dogs with similar mannerisms and body shapes. She responds more quickly to a loose-limbed golden with a swishy tail who wants to play than to a boxer with a more upright posture and stubby tail.

Maybe it’s not just body language that differs from dog to dog but also barking language.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve worked especially hard to teach Honey to hold back around small dogs.

Honey likes to play. But I notice that many small dogs, if they haven’t been socialized around big dogs, find them intimidating.

If someone asks to introduce their small dog to Honey, I often make her sit and allow the small dog to approach first.

If it’s obvious the small dog wants to play and doesn’t find Honey’s size threatening, they often play together beautifully. Honey will practically lie down to shrink herself to a proper playmate size for a frisky little dog.

But if I see a small dog start to hide behind his or her person’s legs, I tell Honey to calm down and hang back.

If we see a small dog on a walk, I often cross the street to avoid the reactions we sometimes see with bossy little pups.

So maybe Honey has internalized my message to be mild around small dogs and expanded it to also not talk to them.

I have no idea.

Honey the golden retriever gets groomed.

Some folks tell their barber everything. But I’ll never tell you the secret of why I only bark at big dogs.

Who Does Your Dog Bark At

Perhaps this behavior stands out so much because Honey is not naturally very barky.

Some dogs alert more easily or are just more talkative.

When I had German shepherd mixes, I never noticed who they barked at because they barked at everyone. And everything. And barked some more.

But Honey only barks occasionally. So that she only replies to big dog barks really stands out.

I haven’t found anyone else asking this question.

I don’t know of any researchers working on this issue.

I’m dying of curiosity.

Have you noticed anything similar in your dogs? Are they barky by nature? Or are they selective barkers? And whose barks are they most likely to reply to?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Because if Honey is conspiring with all the large dogs in the neighborhood, I don’t want to be the last to know.

Honey the golden retriever laughing.

I’ll never tell.

Any idea why Honey only barks at big dogs? Do tell.




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  1. I’m afraid I can’t shed any light on this issue. We have two big dogs. When we lived in the suburbs, our neighbourhood was full of dogs, mostly small. Our dogs didn’t reply to any of them, and tended to bark only at humans coming close to the fence, like our neighbours or the letter carrier or meter reader.

    Now that we live in the country, they bark at all visitors, including the occasional moose that wanders by. And our younger dog, Zach, imagines all kinds of bark-worthy scenarios, sounding the alarm when there’s absolutely nothing there.

  2. Interesting, although I have no insight. Only Becca was a barker and she tended to bark at anything. Maggie has never barked once, not a single peep since we got her 3 years ago. Jack doesn’t bark at other dogs at all, but he has the tendency to just ignore all dogs big or small. I think he likes to pretend he’s not a dog, so why associate with them.

  3. I think she finds yappy little dogs annoying, and not worth talking to. She wants a real conversation and not just a bunch of nonsense gibberish.
    Torrey only barks if she has to. She will let us know if something is around the house, other than that, she is pretty quite. Roxy is pretty much the same way.

  4. Did you see this:
    Not a perfect answer, but I bet the reason is in there somewhere – it’s the tone?

  5. As they’ve gotten older, Callie and Shadow have pretty much stopped barking at every dog, every person, and every thing. Except once in a while they might get talkative out in the yard. Ducky, however, still has to bark at everything at least once or twice. Sometimes it’s annoying, but unless she has to go outside, she usually stops fairly quickly.

  6. I howl and bark and every dog that goes by if I see them, but if I meet dogs outside, I always bark at big dogs because I don’t want them close to me as they threaten me, I prefer smaller dogs and then I’m quiet.

  7. I am so glad Blueberry is not a barker. A lot of times when the neighborhood dogs are barking, she’ll come back into the house. I wonder if it annoys her too. She barks so seldom, when I hear it, I will go check it out and that is usually enough to get her to chill out and pipe down.

  8. Interesting!
    Dante barks whenever he feels the need to notify me of someone either at the door or passing by our house, sometimes he barks to tell me the neighbor is home, usually its just a couple good woofs.
    Jack barks like a maniac when someone knocks or rings the doorbell, and Ziva barks at things she is unsure of or that look suspicious, like her aunty coming out of the shower wearing a towel on her head. BOL!!!

  9. I’m at a loss on this one. It is very interesting question though. My dog doesn’t bark at other dogs unless he can see them barking; and then I think it is more of a frustration thing because he wants to play and he is not able to get to them (on leash, in car, etc).

  10. Hmmmmm. We bark at all kinds of things. No dogs close by since we live on a farm, but anything we think Mom and Dad should know about leads us to bark.

  11. Very interesting! Miley doesn’t bark, ever. Then Maggie joined the family and she makes up for both of them. Whoever and whatever walks by the house, she lets us know. Bruin will sometimes follow in Maggie’s way and chime in from time to time. 😉

  12. What fascinating observations. Sam isn’t much into barking, saving it only for the ‘serial killer mail person’ (wink) and small dogs flummox Sam in general anyway. I think he views them as windup toys. :)

  13. This really fascinates me, too! Last year, I watched SPARCS, a canine science conference, online for free. One of the speakers had done some studies on barking, and concluded that while some dogs might be communicating something–especially if barking had been reinforced–most barking is caused by an emotional response. Specifically, the researcher concluded that barking dogs were feeling ambivalent–torn in what their reaction should be. And so they barked.

    I’m not sure what that has to do with Honey only talking to big dogs. But it makes since with my Nala, who rarely barks despite being a german shepherd. She occasionally barks at me when she is full of feelings and *needs* me to play with her right this instant, but that’s rare. I’ve only heard her really, truly bark twice–both times, there was a cat! On her fence! How dare it! But it sounds like if Honey heard Nala barking at those cats, she might have something to say about it.

  14. Our nearest neighbor has a dog that barks whenever we’re out with the dogs and our dogs ignore him. Rodrigo didn’t used to when we were a 2 dog family, but now that we’re a pack, he’s more focused on his siblings.

  15. My Boxer mix Baby barks VERY rarely. In fact, the only time she barks (when she hasn’t been ticked off by another dog) is at ripples when she’s playing in the water. I have no idea why. It’s the silliest, cutest, oddest thing.

    That said, she does like to make like grumbly howley noises. When I’m not getting her breakfast fast enough. Or I’m not throwing a toy fast enough. Or when a boy comes over and she just loves boys so much that she has to tell them that they had better come pet her right noooooow!

    She’s a demanding little thing.

  16. Harley is more of a social barker. He will bark upon approach and many mis-interrupt that as leash aggression. He will also bark when it’s time to say goodbye #gofigure. Jax has just found his voice so he barks at commercials on television #sillydoodle