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How Dogs Bark in Different Languages

Dogs, in a way, are "multilingual"; humans who speak different languages have come up with different ways to represent the sounds dogs make. So if you talk about how dogs say "woof" in a non-English-speaking country, you'll probably be *dogged* by confused looks.

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The Belgian Shepherd, The Malinois dog on green background with speech bubble "bow wow"

What does the dog say?

Different languages use pretty much entirely different sets of words; onomatopoeia, including animal noises, is no different. So, no; dogs don’t say “woof woof” or “bow wow” in non-English-speaking countries. Especially since animal noises don’t actually make phonetical sounds, so languages can each come up with their own interpretation of how best to represent that sound, adhering with phonetical conventions of that language. And, interestingly, while many languages are in agreement about the sound cats make, there’s a vast variety when it comes to dog barks. Case in point: These vastly different interpretations, from the book The Weird World of Words, of the sound a dog makes from 28 different languages. But first, if you journey to any of these countries, you’ll want to know how to say “Hello” in different languages first!

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portrait of a white pit bull dog on lavender background with speech bubble "vuf vuf"

How dogs bark in Western Europe

First stop: French and Spanish. En français, you have a couple of different options for how to describe dog-speak. You can say ouaf ouaf, ouah ouah, or wouf wouf. As you can see, we’re still in “woof”-ish territory here. Spanish, though, is another story; in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, dogs say guau guau! (Take a listen here; the “g” is muted so it sounds a bit like “wow wow.”) Also in Spain (northeastern Spain, to be exact), as well as Andorra, you’ll find speakers of the Catalan language, where dogs say bup bup.

Moving east, you’ll find dogs saying waf waf and woef woef in the Netherlands; wau wau, waff waff, and wuff wuff in Germany; and vuf vuf in Denmark. All the way down in geography’s most famous boot, Italy, dog-speak is represented as bau bau. For some more language trivia, do you know about these unique words in English that don’t have foreign equivalents?

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Australian Shepherd Dog in Studio on Yellow Background with speech bubble "haf haf"
Jess Wealleans/Shutterstock

How dogs bark in Central Europe, the Balkans, and Russia

Farther east in Europe, let’s pay a visit to the Czech Republic and Poland, where dogs say haf haf and hau hau, respectively. Hungarian dogs change Poland’s version up a little bit with vau vau.

Over on the southeast end of Europe, on the Balkan peninsula, dogs saying ghav ghav is Greek to me! People in North Macedonia prefer the similar-but-shorter av av. Dogs in Albania say ham ham (pronounced closer to “hom hom,” not like Easter dinner!). In Bulgaria, they say bow bow, interestingly not quite the familiar English “bow wow.” And finally, if you’re Russian, your pooch will say gav gav or tyaf tyaf. Already quite the variety! This makes sense because there are lots of different dog breeds that hail from all around the world. Find out what the world’s most (and least) expensive dogs are.

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portrait of a husky dog on blue background with speech bubble "voff voff"

How dogs bark in Scandinavia and Iceland

Moving way up north, dogs in both Norway and Sweden say voff voff or vov vov. The Finns take a slightly different approach with hau hau and vuh vuh.  And, on the other side of the Norwegian Sea to the west, the Icelandic bark is also voff voff. Too confusing for you? You won’t have to worry about it with one of these quiet dog breeds that hardly ever bark.

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portrait of a grey shar pei dog on pink background with speech bubble "bho bho"

How dogs bark in South Asia and the Middle East

In Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, where Arabic is spoken, dogs say haw haw or hab hab. In Persian, also known as Farsi, which is spoken in Middle Eastern nations like Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan, you’ll hear vaagh vaaghIn Hindi, the official language of India, dog-speak is bho bho or the classic bow wow. And the Tamil people, who live primarily in India and Sri Lanka, have three different terms to describe what a dog says: voww-voww, loll-loll, and vazh vazh. No matter what language dogs bark in, they sure are adorable—check out these adorable pictures of the cutest dog breeds as puppies.

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portrait of a dalmation dog on aqua background with speech bubble "gau gau"
Megan Betteridge/Shutterstock

How dogs bark in East Asia and Southeast Asia

In Mandarin Chinese, the most widely spoken language in the entire world, dogs say wāng wāng (pronounced more like “wong wong”), and in China’s other major language, Cantonese, they say wōu-wōu. Across the Yellow Sea, Korean speakers say meong meong, which to English speakers sounds more like something a cat would say!

In Japan, dogs bark by saying wan wan (which rhymes with “on,” not “pan”). Farther south, in Vietnam, a dog will let out a gâu gâu or a sủa sủa. But if you say either of those in Indonesia, you’ll be barking up the wrong tree, because in Indonesian, dogs say guk guk!

Once you’ve wrapped your head around these vastly different versions of what dogs say, see if you can keep straight these funny, adorable pet-related slang words (all in English this time).

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.