The sound of a howling dog touches upon many notes to the ears that hear it. Our imagination goes wild, running through hundreds of associations as we feel a wide range of emotions; from wonder and contemplation to annoyance and irritation, a dog’s howl has a powerful effect on us.
Is it the coming of a full moon? Or is it an ancient wolf call that arose in the spur of the moment? Are they trying to tell us something? Few sounds draw a sense of mystery like this lengthy vocalization produced by our pets.
As we listen, we can’t help but wonder, Why is my pooch howling?
The answer is fascinating. Dogs howl because of many reasons, and extraordinary discoveries have addressed just how sophisticated this behavior is. More than a reminiscence of their wolf ancestors, it tells us a lot about how their behavior has evolved around their interactions with humans.
Why Wolves Howl
We know our lovable and furry sidekicks come from wolves. Canis familiares isthe scientific name for your standard, playful, and adorable family dog. They’re part of the canid family, which includes wolves, coyotes, and foxes. The main predecessor is the wolf and howling its most recognizable trademark.
Wolves are social animals that live in groups, or packs. This makes it easier for them to raise and feed the pups of the pack, hunting collaboratively and defending their territory as a team. It’s the canine take on the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” (or better said “it takes a pack to raise a pup”).
Howling is how wolves communicate with each other; to show their attachment, or while they’re out hunting as a pack. Team unity and kinship are so important to them that they’ll howl at each other to strengthen group memberships, developing a vocalization that only the members of the group will recognize.
If wolves get disoriented and find themselves away from the rest of the pack, they will howl. This will alert the rest of the pack and hopefully direct them to the absent wolf, reincorporating the lost member back into the group.
Dogs Howl to Get our Attention
Dogs have evolved a long way from their wolf ancestors, but they remain social animals that depend highly on their team. For dogs, we, as their owners, are their pack. They could be howling to get our attention. If we engage with them when they howl, either negatively or positively, it’s more likely they’ll repeat this behavior.
If you don’t enjoy your dog’s howling, or live in an area where your neighbors might complain about it, avoid engaging with your dog when they howl. This means avoiding eye contact or petting them. Reward your pup when they’re silent, with treats and reaffirmations. You might have to put up with the howling for some time, but as soon as your dog understands that their howling will not get a reaction from you, they will stop.
Dogs Howl to Alert Their Owners Where they Are
If your dog is howling every time they perceive you’re coming home, they could be using this vocalization to signal their location. If they’re howling after being left alone for some time, or you’ve been told they howl when left alone, this could indicate they’re suffering from separation anxiety.
Make sure you address separation anxiety by providing your dog plenty of playtime, with exercise and mental stimuli. If you’re away for an extended period, consider taking your dog to a doggy daycare facility or to someone who can keep them company.
Dogs Howl to Ward Off Intruders
Some dogs howl when unknown visitors approach their home. This could indicate that your dog is very protective and is howling as a defense mechanism to ward off intruders. Be aware that they may be untrusting and consider some further socialization training. If you believe they’re afraid of strangers, there are ways to address this behavior and hopefully find a solution.
Dogs Howl to Show Pain or Nervousness
Dogs are known to vocalize to express physical or emotional pain. In this case, it’s important to assess if the howling is a part of their personality or not. Observe your dog. Are they usually quiet? Are there other new behaviors that accompany the howl? Take your dog to the vet to rule out physical pain or illness.
Sometimes, your dog may howl as an expression of nervousness. Have there been noteworthy changes in your pet’s life? Dogs are very attached and dependent animals, and big changes in their lives may produce anxiety. If this is the case, find a routine for your dog that will help them know what to expect. This will give them added security and a sense of predictability.
Dogs Howl as a Cheer
In the wild, wolves howl when hunting. Some dogs may mimic this behavior when finding a special treasure, or a surprising and delicious treat left unattended. In this case, the howling is an expression of excitement and enthusiasm. It’s their way of expressing pride and joy in their discovery.
Howling is a means of communication within a group, and can be a contagious behavior. You may notice that when your dog howls, other dogs in the area join in. Similarly, your dog could be howling as a canine response to another dog’s howl. If this is the case, there isn’t much you can do but sit back and enjoy the concert!
Dogs Howl at Music
Dogs have a heightened nervous system, and their sense of hearing is almost as well-tuned as their sense of smell. There have been fascinating studies that determined that dogs recognize tones. This could be why dogs may howl at music. Many musicians have been startled at their dogs howling to their violin playing, or to their trumpet horning.
They could be howling to mimic their owner, and some pitches might inspire them to howl along. Long notes, wind instruments such as the flute and clarinet, and the human voice, have a high response from dogs.
Recordings of wolves howling in a pack have registered that wolves change their tone when others join in. Dogs have a unique sense of music in their genes, and as they have learned to interact with humans through many generations, they may have acquired musical talent.
Do all Dogs Howl?
As much as howling is a part of wolves, not all dogs howl. A 2023 study done by the publication Communications Biology concluded that dogs from ancient breeds were more likely to vocalize than those from more modern breeds. The ancient breeds that participated in this study were Pekingese, Alaskan Malamute, Shih-Tzu, Siberian Husky, and Akita.
Breeds that are more quiet and less likely to howl are the French Bulldog, the Whippet, the Shiba Inu, and the Basenji, among others. These are also known to be less likely to bark, too.
Age also made a difference in this study: older dogs were more likely to howl than younger dogs.
Howling is a habit that can be experienced as mysterious, lovely, curious, or, annoying. Whatever emotions it draws from us, it’s an innate part of canine nature. As previously mentioned, not all dogs howl, but some do. The best you can do is to observe your dog keenly and get in touch with your intuition as to what they’re trying to say. If you’re distressed by their howling, rule out illness or anxiety and act accordingly. If their howling pleases you, record your dog and consider starting a TikTok account – you may be dog-parenting a rising star!
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