Why Do Dogs Howl?

helloBARK! staff
By helloBARK! staff
Updated on October 14, 2020
Expert Content

Does your dog howl?

I’ve got an Alaskan Klee Kai who loves to howl, whether it’s at a siren, a form of communicating with me or a greeting when he meets other dogs.

Howling is a common form of communication used by dogs.

However, dogs can howl for a variety of different reasons depending on what they’re trying to communicate.

We spoke to five experts to find out why do dogs howl.

It Is An Effective Means Of Communicating

Dr. Shadi Ireifej DVM DACVS, chief medical officer at vettriage.com

Another age-old question: Why do dogs howl? The simplest answer is because their ancestors, wolves, howl. But then for what purpose? There is really only one functional reason for howling and that is communication. So what are wolves and dogs trying to communicate? Let’s examine some different, shall we say, interpretations for any given howl.

• Long-distance messages – Howling transmits a message over a long distance. Dogs are social animals. The domesticated dog is living in a home or spends a lot of their time in a yard of a home. They are not exploring their community. As such, when they feel the need to communicate to their fellow canines, it will be in the form a howl. As a comparison, communication on a more local level occurs in the form of a bark, tail wag, ear movements, and so forth.

• Attention-seeking – We are all familiar with how “needy” dogs can be. Howling is one method by which dogs try to gain our attention. How effective is this? That depends on how potent of a howler your dog is and how tolerant you are of it. This behavior may or may not be discouraged depending on whether the noise is welcomed in your household. Certain breeds, like the Northern breeds (Husky, Malamute) or hunting/hound breeds (Beagle), can be very effective at gaining your attention through howling!

• Asking for directions – Dogs may howl as a means of talking to their group or pack. Specifically, in order to find their way home. This may not be much use to our domesticated dogs who live and sleep in the same place everyday of their adopted lives. Perhaps if your dog gets lost and is placed in an unknown or foreign location, like a veterinary clinic or shelter, they will howl for this reason.

• Strength in numbers – Howling may let others who are listening know how many live here. This is especially true for dogs living together who howl together. The message may be one of just “F.Y.I” or to ward off potential invaders. Or howling in this case may be used to help a fellow member of the pack find their way home.

• Why howl at inanimate objects? – Dogs will respond or even mimic sounds that have decibels similar to a howl. Whether the dog knows that these artificial “howl-imposters”, like ambulance sirens, are authentic or not is unknown.

• Sensitive creatures – Howling may be pain response, a message of loneliness, fear or sadness, or a message of satisfaction in being reunited with the pack member. They are expressing themselves and this howling is to be taken into context. For example, if your other dog returns home, and howling ensues by the resident dog, that is probably more of a greeting howl than one of pain.

Conclusion

Why howl? Because wolves do. Why do wolves howl? Because it is an effective means of communicating a wide variety of messages to those who are listening and can understand it.

Similar To A Beacon

Diana Ludwiczak, a K9 scent detection trainer and CEO of Doctor Sniffs Bed Bug Dogs

If a dog is howling at home they are oftentimes trying to signal the rest of their group to come back home. It is similar to a beacon. The group they are trying to signal is oftentimes the humans they are bonded to in their life.

My eldest dog, Luna, howls when she heard sirens. Her Embark DNA test came back with a high “wolfiness score”. This in turn shows that the howling may be linked to her ancient DNA wolf ancestry. The sirens have been known to trigger the howling response in many dogs all over the world.

Alaskan Klee Kai howling (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram )

Alaskan Klee Kai howling (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram )

The Most Common Reason To Howl Is Separation Anxiety

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS and Veterinarian from DoggieDesigner

Dogs howl for different reasons, depending on the situation.

Generally, howling is an attempt to communicate – either with us, or with other dogs. Wolves use howling as a way of communicating over long distances. Some dogs have an innate instinct to howl, which has probably descended from the wolf. In fact, dogs that are closer to the wolf genetically – like some hybrids and northern breeds – may be more prone to howling rather than other forms of communication such as barking.

The most common reason for our domesticated dogs to howl is separation anxiety. Dogs naturally live in groups, and have an aversion to being left alone. Whilst dogs can be trained to relax on their own, those that have developed an anxiety towards being left alone can get distressed, destroy things, attempt to escape, and vocalise – including howling.

This is probably because howling in wolves is a way to communicate with missing pack members – so it’s their way of calling for you to check you’re ok and ask when you’ll be home. Dogs also tend to howl when they hear others howling. This is why dogs might howl at the television, or even at a passing ambulance, baby’s cry, or music. As far as they’re concerned, they’re joining in with the group vocalisation!

Howling Can Be A Sign Of Pain

Jen Jones, Professional Dog Trainer, Behavior Specialist and Founder of Your Dog Advisor

Scientists have yet to determine the exact reason dog’s howl, though experts do theorize this is a primal way of communicating linked back to their wild wolf ancestors.

Howling is generally harmless and normal, and is thought to be done by dogs as a form of communication, for attention, warning, and even to sing along with other high pitched noises they hear like music or sirens.

However, while howling is considered normal and typically mundane, there can be times when excessive howling may be a concern. Sometimes howling can be a sign of pain, anxiety, and even fear. If your dog is excessively howling, it’s never a bad idea to speak with a professional behaviorist and have your dog seen by a trusted vet.

Alaskan Klee Kai howling (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram )

Alaskan Klee Kai howling (Photo: @lifewithkleekai / Instagram )

Howling Is An Evolutionary Trait

Jeff Carbridge, a professional dog trainer at DogOwner.co.uk

There’s more than one reason why dogs howl.

• It’s in their DNA – Howling is an evolutionary trait passed down from their ancestors over thousands of years. Since dogs are descended from wolves, some still have that urge to howl in order to alert the pack and communicate with them. For them, you are the pack and they are getting your attention and letting you know how they feel. They might want affection, sleep, or food.

• Staking their claim – Some dogs howl to let others know that this is their territory and other packs should not enter it. This is common behaviour in wolves, and some dogs will still have this primal instinct to lay their claim and let the world know who lives here.

• Reaction to sound – There are times when howling is just a reaction to sound. Sirens, music, it could be any of these things and more. Sometimes it is because they like the sound and want to join in with it, much like a wolf pack with chorus when they howl. Other times it is likely because they actually can’t stand the noise. Which howl they are using? That’s pretty hard to determine!

• Emotional and physical pain – This is actually a surprisingly common reason for howling, especially as a result of separation anxiety and feelings of sadness or loss. The howling indicates a need for comfort and companionship. In the case of physical pain, it can be difficult to tell that this is the case. If you can’t figure out why your dog is howling, take them to the vet.

• Let them howl – There isn’t really any need to stop them from howling. It doesn’t tend to go on for long and is an important form of expression. As long as they aren’t waking up the neighbourhood at 3am, you should let them howl and tell the world how they feel.