Why Do Dogs Howl?

July 31, 2020
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Howling is a form of communication, and it’s an innate behavior that can be seen in all canine species. While the most famous howling canine is the wolf, it’s not uncommon to see dogs howling as well.  

Wolves use howling to identify themselves to other wolves, to ward off intruders, and to bond with other pack members. 

Domesticated canines (dogs) diverged genetically from wolves 20,000 to 40,000 years ago. While dogs are different from wolves, they did keep plenty of wolf behaviors, including howling.

Here’s what you need to know about the evolution of dogs howling and why they still howl today.

Why Is My Dog Howling? What Does It Mean?

Here are some of the most common reasons for dog howling.

Your Dog Wants Your Attention

The most common reason why you’ll see dogs howling is because they are seeking your attention. There is nothing that grabs a pet parent’s attention quite as quickly as an eardrum-busting howl.

You could be unintentionally reinforcing this because people automatically respond to loud noises. So when your dog is howling, you respond, and your dog sees that they’ve gotten your attention and that their howling has been effective.

Many pet parents also find their dog’s howling to be funny or entertaining, so a dog may see it as a way to get positive attention from people.

How to Discourage This Type of Howling 

If you wish to discourage attention-seeking howling, the most effective method is through a behavior conditioning technique known as reinforcement.

If your dog starts howling, you must ignore them completely. When the howling stops and your dog is calm, then you can reward them with attention—known as positive reinforcement.

Do not punish or pay attention to your dog during a howling episode, as it will only amplify the behavior.

Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety 

Another reason a dog may howl is because they have anxiety, specifically, separation anxiety.  

If your dog begins howling every time you’ve left your home or when your dog is unable to reach you, this could be a sign of separation anxiety.

How to Discourage This Type of Howling

The best course of action for dealing with dogs with separation anxiety is to seek help from a veterinarian that specializes in behavior issues. Visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists to find a behavior specialist near you.

If you don’t live in an area with a behavior specialist, I would encourage visiting your local veterinarian.

Your Dog Is Responding to Certain Noises

Dogs can also howl when they hear noises outside—we’ve all seen the videos of dogs howling along with sirens.

This type of howling is a result of the dog’s evolution from wolves. Howling was a form of location-detection for wolves. They would use howling to locate their pack members or tell other wolves to stay out of their territory.

How to Discourage This Type of Howling

If you wish to discourage dogs from howling due to certain noises, the most effective method is through a behavior-conditioning technique known as desensitization and counterconditioning.

To try desensitization, you will have to apply a lesser form of the noise. If the noise at a low level doesn’t trigger howling, then slowly increase the volume in subsequent sessions.

Eventually, a dog will lose interest in the noise, and the howling response should stop. You can also use counterconditioning by providing a reward when your dog is calm.

Do not punish or pay attention to your dog during a howling episode, as it will only amplify the behavior.

Do Some Dog Breeds Howl More Than Others?

Although all dogs can howl, there are some dog breeds that are prone to howling—the Husky, Beagle, Alaskan Malamute, Redbone Coonhound, Bloodhound, etc. And some dogs will go their whole lives without howling.

Typically, dogs that howl the most are working or sporting dog breeds. They enjoy having a job, and howling plays a role in that—hunting dogs, herding dogs, sled dogs, and so on.

For dogs that don’t howl, it’s most likely the result of evolution. Since humans meet their dogs’ needs, dogs are no longer dependent on each other, so there’s no longer a real need for howling.

What Is the Reason for Puppy Howling?

Puppies howl when they are seeking attention. Some reasons for puppy howling include:

  • Hunger

  • Thirst

  • Need to go to the bathroom

  • Loneliness

If your puppy starts howling, you need to address their needs. Be patient with puppy howling. With time you will know the difference between these reasons for puppy howling and loneliness.

 You can apply the same behavior-conditioning techniques to puppies like we do with adult dogs if you’ve made sure that all their needs are met.

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Featured Image: iStock.com/Bigandt_Photography