Why Do Dogs Howl and What Does It Mean?

Last updated on: Feb 15, 2024

By: Stephanie Dunne

Siberian Husky Dog Howling on Snow Covered Ground

Have you ever heard your dog suddenly start howling and wondered what's going on in their head? It's a sound that can send shivers down your spine, reminding us of spooky movies.

But more importantly, it connects our beloved pets with their wild ancestors, the wolves. In fact, did you know that howling is not just for the movies or stories? It's one of parts of how dogs communicate, just like talking is for us.

Why do they do it? Is it something to worry about? We've got all the answers for you. Let's explore the hows and whys of dog howling and what you can do if your furry friend loves to sing a little too often.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Dogs howl because they inherited this form of vocal communication from their ancestors, the wolves. Howling for dogs is what posting on social media might be for us – a way to spread a message far and wide. Unlike barking, which is more about immediate alerts or warnings, howling is a long-distance call, connecting them with others and expressing themselves.

Here are the main reasons and causes.

Communication with Others

Imagine your dog is trying to say, "I'm here! Where are you?" That's essentially what they're doing when they howl. It's a way for them to reach out to other dogs or even to you. This behavior dates back to their wolf ancestors, who howled to gather the pack together or to let other packs know where they were.

Expressing Emotions

Dogs are emotional creatures. They feel excitement, anxiety, sadness, and howling is one of their outlets for expressing these feelings. A happy howl might greet you when you come home, while a sad howl could be their way of saying they miss you.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

Dogs are smart. They quickly learn what actions get them attention from their humans. If howling gets them a look, a word, or better yet, a cuddle, they'll use it to communicate their desire for attention.

Response to Environment

Ever noticed your dog howling at sirens or music? That's their ancestral instinct kicking in. High-pitched sounds may trigger your dog's howling behavior, as it mimics the howls they would respond to in the wild.

Indicating Pain or Discomfort

Sometimes, howling is a sign that your dog isn't feeling well. If they're in pain or discomfort, they might howl to tell you that something's wrong, prompting a check-up from the vet.

Separation Anxiety

For some dogs, being away from their owners is tough. They might howl to express their distress and loneliness when you're not around, which is a common symptom of separation anxiety.

Why Some Breeds Howl More Than Others?

In every bark, yip, and howl, there's a bit of history and a lot of personality.

Not all dogs howl the same. Some are born to be vocal, while others rarely let out a howl. Why is that? A lot of it has to do with their breed. Just like people have traits passed down from their families, dogs inherit their howling habits from their ancestors.

Born to Howl

Certain breeds are more prone to howling because of their genetic makeup and the roles their ancestors played. For example, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are known for their vocal nature. This trait was essential in the cold, vast lands they originated from, helping them communicate over long distances.

Then, there are the hounds. Beagles, Coonhounds, and Bloodhounds, to name a few, have howling in their blood. Originally bred for hunting, their howl was a way to signal their human companions about their location and the pursuit of prey.

A Quiet Side

On the flip side, some breeds are less inclined to howl. Breeds like French Bulldogs, Rottweilers, and most toy breeds tend to be quieter in this regard. Their howling might be reserved for very specific situations, if at all, reflecting their breeding history and what was valued in their development.

When to Be Concerned?

While howling is a normal part of dog communication, there are times when it might signal something more serious.

Changes in Howling Behavior

A sudden increase or decrease in howling can be a red flag. If your typically vocal dog becomes quiet or your quiet dog starts howling frequently, it's worth paying attention to. Changes like these could indicate health issues, emotional distress, or environmental factors affecting your dog.

Howling Due to Illness or Injury

Sometimes, howling is a dog's way of telling you they're in pain or discomfort. If your dog starts howling more than usual and you can't figure out why it might be time for a vet visit. Dogs are good at hiding pain, so howling might be one of the few signs that something's wrong.

Behavioral Issues and Howling

Excessive howling can also be a symptom of underlying behavioral issues, such as separation anxiety or problems with territoriality. If your dog howls incessantly when you leave the house, it might be a sign of separation anxiety. Similarly, constant howling at people or other animals outside might indicate territorial issues.

If you're concerned about your dog's howling, the best step is to consult with a veterinarian or a professional dog trainer. They can help you figure out the cause of the howling and recommend solutions to address it.

How to Deal With Excessive Howling

If your dog's howling has turned into a full-blown choir performance at all hours, it might be time to consider ways to manage and reduce their vocal concerts.

Ignore Attention-Seeking Howls

Dogs are smart. They quickly learn what behaviors earn them attention from their favorite humans. If your dog learns that howling gets your attention, they'll keep doing it.

One strategy is to ignore the howling when it's clearly for attention. Wait until they're quiet to give them attention, teaching them that silence, not howling, is the way to your heart.

Train Commands for Silence

Training your dog to understand commands like "quiet" or "hush" can be incredibly helpful. Start by using the command when they're howling and then rewarding them when they stop, even if it's just for a moment. Over time, they'll learn that "quiet" means they should stop howling, and they'll get a treat or praise for doing so.

Note that this probably won't help if your dog howls when no one is home.

Address Separation Anxiety

For dogs that howl due to separation anxiety, the goal is to make them feel safe and comfortable when you're not around. This can include leaving them with a piece of clothing that smells like you, providing plenty of toys to keep them occupied, or using a crate where they feel secure.

Separation anxiety is a complex issue and can be difficult to deal with. Consider working with a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to develop a plan that suits your dog's specific needs.

Try Desensitization and Counterconditioning

If your dog howls in response to specific triggers, like sirens or other animals, desensitization and counterconditioning can help.

This involves gradually exposing your dog to the trigger at a low level, so it doesn't induce howling, and then rewarding them for staying quiet. Over time, you increase the exposure level, always ensuring your dog remains calm and rewarded for their silence.

Wrapping Up

Remember, each dog is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

For more insights into understanding your furry friend, check out our articles on why dogs chew their paws and why dogs scratch the floor.

For the new puppy owners, we've discussed the pros and cons of letting your dog sleep in your bed and how to introduce a puppy to your existing dog.

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