Why do dogs howl?
The loud, lengthy howl of a dog is an unmistakable sound that can be heard from miles away. You’ve probably heard it before, or your dog might even be a howler themselves. So, you may have asked yourself the question, why do dogs do this?
Realistically, howling is just an instinct dogs have, likely originating from their wolf ancestors and it can spark from pretty much anything. However, howling can almost always be pinned down to your dog trying to communicate something.
It’s in their blood
Dogs today have been domesticated to live as members of our family, but once upon a time, they originated from wolves. Members of a large pack living in the wild, wolves use howling to communicate messages across a span of land.
Although our dogs don’t howl to the same extent that wolves do, it still raises the question, do dogs howl because of their shared ancestry with these wild animals?
Howling is a way for wolves to check in and protect their pack. As pack animals, wolves stick together, so if a member of the pack is missing, a howl can be used to beckon the missing member back. It can also be used to warn other animals away who are intruding on their territory.
Generally, wolves use their piercing howl to communicate a message, whether that be to unite with pack members or as a threatening signal to other animals. But what do our pooches need to tell us? They don’t have missing pack members or territory they must protect, so why do they howl?
It starts with a spark
Howling in reaction to a trigger is just a primal response that a dog might have.
Emergency vehicle sirens are a common trigger to set off a dog’s howl, which is understandable as it can be quite a jarring sound for your pooch.
It’s possible that your furry friend thinks the noise is a threat to themselves or to you and their howl could be a method of protecting you both. Dogs using a howl in response to a threat confirms the theory that howling is simply something in their nature from their wolf ancestors.
Howling in this way is completely normal canine behaviour and nothing to be concerned about, as long as it’s not followed by any violence and aggression. If your dog howls in response to a trigger, it usually will start and stop in accordance with that trigger.
Spotting another animal or even a visitor entering the house may also be enough to trigger a session of howling. A loud howl can even ensue when you return home. Think of it as your pooch saying, ‘welcome home, I’ve missed you soooo much!’ Even if you’ve only been out for 10 minutes!
Some dogs, if you howl or sing to them, will howl back. It could be possible that your pooch is howling just to be involved in whatever is going on.
Typically, when your pup decides to channel their primal wolf instincts through a howl, it won’t be excessive and shouldn’t cause many problems. However, if the trigger occurs frequently, it could become an issue.
How to stop this
If you think your dog is howling excessively, maybe due to feeling anxious or threatened by a certain trigger, you might want to try and discourage this habit.
Implementing a behaviour modification regime such as desensitisation will help your dog’s reactions to such triggers.
As the howling is rooted in how they feel about a particular thing, you must expose your pet to the trigger at an incredibly reduced level, so they do not react to it. Desensitisation works by steadily increasing your dog’s exposure to this trigger at progressively more intense levels so they become desensitised to it.
Attracting your attention
Your dog letting out a random howl from a different part of the house might be enough to give you a panic, but you’ll probably just find yourself met with an attention-seeking dog who wants you to play with them.
Dogs have many methods of gaining your attention, and a loud, prolonged howl usually does the trick.
How to stop this
This behaviour can be seriously annoying, so your first instinct might be to reprimand your dog and tell them to be quiet.
However, any attention is good in your dog’s eyes, even if that attention is a telling off. Your dog needs to learn that howling will not get your attention anymore, even if it used to previously.
Ignoring them completely when they’re howling and rewarding them when they’re quiet for a sustained length of time is the best way to stop this.
Should I be worried if my dog howls?
If you do notice your dog howling, first confirm they’re not trying to tell you something deeper and more serious.
You may have never heard your dog howl before, but if one day you hear a long, mournful howl it’s paws-ible that your dog is in pain. Tend to your dog straight away and if you do think they have sustained an injury or are generally in pain, you must take them to the vet straight away to get your pup checked over.
Truthfully, you have no idea what your dog gets up to when you’re not there, unless you have a camera set up.
You leave for work every day and maybe one day your irritated neighbour informs you that your dog has been mournfully howling. This could come as a shock as you may have thought your pooch was perfectly fine and didn’t suffer from any kind of separation anxiety.
Most dogs crave social contact due to many years of domestication to live and sometimes work alongside humans. Dogs don’t like being a lone wolf.
Separation anxiety is the behaviour your dog exhibits when they’re left alone and it typically shows itself in destruction, toilet accidents, whining and reports of barking/howling. Going back to their ancestry, we know wolves howl when a pack member is missing to help them return to the pack. Your dog possibly sees you as a missing pack member so they’re potentially howling to beckon you back home.
Helping your dog’s separation anxiety
Addressing your dog’s separation anxiety, in whatever form it arises in, is essential. Whether that be destruction, whining, barking, or howling. It may not have any impact on you, but a dog that is stressed and anxious every time you leave the house is not a happy dog.
Helping your dog to see their time alone is a time to relax rather than a time to worry will take lots of patience and understanding.
To start helping a moderate case of separation anxiety, begin by leaving your dog alone and returning after only a few minutes with praise if they have been good. Slowly progress and build up the length of time they are on their own for.
It’s essential that you never punish your dog for being destructive while you’re gone. As they displayed this naughty behaviour a while ago, they will not know what they’re being disciplined for and may start to associate you coming home with punishment.
Remember, be realistic with your dog. This won’t happen overnight, and some dogs will progress a lot faster than others. Preparing beforehand to try and reduce their anxiety is important too, for instance:
- Toys such as a Kong stuffed with Pure provides entertainment and mental enrichment for a while
- Try to provide your dog with lots of exercise before leaving them alone, this should tire them out and encourage them to chill
- Make sure the space where your dog is left is comfortable (bed, water, toys)
Your dog’s anxiety towards being left alone may be extremely severe and seemingly impossible to solve on your own, so getting help from a trained behaviourist could be something to think about. A structured behaviour regime will likely be implemented to help solve the issue. We've got a full post that goes into full detail about solving your dog's separation anxiety here.
If you must leave your dog for a major amount of time, such as going to work all day, maybe consider a dog sitter.
Of course, you cannot always be with your dog, they must learn to be on their own. But if your dog is displaying destructive, attention-seeking behaviour, do try spending as much time as possible with them. Dogs are like humans; they crave social interaction.
Do certain dog breeds howl more?
Yes, some dogs are genetically predisposed to howling. Typically, dogs that howl are the ones that had a job at one point in their ancestry. Dogs like huskies and hound breeds are amongst those that are most likely to display this behaviour.
Even though all dogs have wolf origins, huskies are the most directly linked and they absolutely love to howl. This could be howling to music, sirens, your singing, or just about anything.
Also known for their loud howls are hound breeds. Hounds were once working breeds and they would use their howl to alert hunters to where their catch is.
A puppy howling is also a common occurrence and could be due to many things: hunger, thirst, loneliness or being in need of a toilet break.
Specific dog breeds most likely to howl:
- Siberian Husky
- Alaskan Malamute
- American Eskimo Dog
- Basset Hound
If you’re planning on getting any of these dog breeds, the inclination to howl may be something you want to consider. Relentless howling can easily become a problem, all depending on the frequency of the howling and the source that triggers it.
However, you may view the howling as a quirky little trait that makes your dog who they are. Or you simply might just enjoy having a little singalong with your furry friend.
- Canine separation anxiety: Strategies for treatment and management Veterinary Medicine Research and Reports, 5, October 2014, 143-151, doi:10.2147/VMRR.S60424