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 his howling, on the other hand, is typically less clear. So why exactly does a dog howl? We've got the lowdown.

Dog in a field barking.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Howling is a deeply ingrained behavior. 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 help members of the pack find their way back home, says Dogster. 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 pooch 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 announce to rival dogs and potential threats that territory belongs to them and to keep away. This might be why one howling dog can trigger every dog in the neighborhood 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 he's protesting because he dislikes the noise, it could just as easily mean he likes it and wants to join in!
  • To express emotional pain: Dogs may howl to express fear, anxiety or sadness, and to signal their desire for comfort, says Rover. Dogs with separation anxiety often howl when their caretakers leave them alone.
  • To express physical pain: Likewise, dogs in physical pain or discomfort may howl to let their caretakers know they need attention. If the reason for your dog's howling is unclear, it's a good idea to check him out for signs of dog pain. If he continues howling and you can't figure out why, reach out to your veterinarian.

You'll also probably notice that your dog likes to tilt his head to the sky to let out this vocalization. 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 vocalization. Others speculate that it allows the sound waves to travel further, allowing 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, says Dogster. Those more likely to howl include several hound breeds, including 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 — this is especially true of senior dogs who become confused due to dementia or loss of vision or hearing, says Rover.

Training a Dog Not to Howl

Because dogs might howl for a number of reasons, training them to not howl varies. In cases of pain or direct result of a noise, the howling is probably infrequent enough that training is not necessary. But if your dog is great at inciting the rest of the neighborhood into a howling chorus at night, you may want to train them. Because howling is a behavioral 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 his good behavior — in this case, when he stops howling give him lots of love or the occasional treat. You can also redirect his attention to something more productive when he begins to howl.

So, why do dogs howl? It turns out there are a plethora of reasons. One thing seems certain, though: When your pup howls, it often simply means he wants 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.