Why Do Dogs Howl?

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Dogs make a variety of sounds to express different wants, needs and feelings, but a dog's howl, in particular, is unmistakable. The reason for their howling, on the other hand, is not always so clear. So why exactly does a dog howl? Read on to find out.

Dog in a field barking.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Howling is a deeply ingrained behaviour. A dog's howl, similar to a wolf's, is a loud, drawn-out, mournful cry. It differs from a bark, which is typically brief and explosive.

A dog may howl for some of the same reasons wolves do. However, as dogs have evolved and grown closer to humans, some of their reasons for howling may have also evolved. Here are several reasons why your dog might howl:

  • To signal to the pack. Like wolves, dogs howl to communicate with other members of their pack, signal their presence, or indicate their location, says PetHelpful. This is not only true of wild dogs who run in actual packs, but also domestic dogs who view their human family and caretakers as their pack. This may explain why your dog howls when you or another family member has been away from home for a while.
  • To ward off predators and announce their territory. Dogs use howling to declare their territory to rival dogs and potential threats and warn them to keep away. This might be why one howling dog can trigger every dog in the neighbourhood to start howling — they're all sounding off to let each other know who occupies which territory.

Two huskies howling while they lay on a lakeside beach.

  • As a response to noise. Your dog may howl in response to a nearby siren, a musical instrument, a sound on the television or your own singing. While this may mean they’re protesting because they dislike the noise, it could just as easily mean they like it and want to join in!
  • To express their emotions. Dogs may howl to express a wide range of emotions, says PetHelpful, including triumph, excitement, fear, loneliness, irritation, sadness, and anxiety. Blue Cross explains that some dogs experience separation anxiety and will often howl when their pet parents leave them alone.
  • To express pain. Dogs in physical pain or discomfort may howl to let their pet parents know they need attention. If the reason for your dog's howling is unclear, it's a good idea to check them out for signs of dog pain. If they continue howling and you can't figure out why, reach out to your veterinarian.

You'll also probably notice that your dog likes to tilt their head to the sky to let out their vocalisation. There are a variety of reasons why dogs will tilt their heads, but there is little information on why dogs might "howl at the moon." Many people speculate that this is because it straightens out the vocal cords and provides more airflow from the chest to allow them to provide this type of vocalisation. Others speculate that it allows the sound waves to travel further, letting more dogs or creatures know they are there.

Dogs Most Likely to Howl

While howling is common among all dogs, some breeds are more likely to howl than others. These include hound breeds like dachshunds, beagles, basset hounds and bloodhounds, as well as huskies, Alaskan malamutes and American Eskimo dogs.

Dogs may also howl more as they get older, particularly if they have hearing or vision loss. The PDSA adds that in senior dogs, excessive howling can sometimes be a sign of dementia.

Training a Dog Not to Howl

Because dogs might howl for a number of reasons, techniques for training them to not howl can vary. In cases of pain or noise, the howling is probably infrequent enough that training is not necessary. But if your dog is great at inciting the rest of the neighbourhood into a howling chorus at night, you may want to train them. Because howling is a behavioural trait, it may take more time to teach them to stop howling. Never discipline a dog that howls because dogs rarely understand why they are in trouble. Instead, reward their good behaviour. In this case, when they stop howling, give them lots of love or the occasional treat. You can also redirect their attention to something more productive when they begin to howl.

So, why do dogs howl? It turns out there are a plethora of reasons. One thing seems certain, though: When your dog howls, it often simply means they want your attention!

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.