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Why Do Dogs Howl?

By Aviram K.
Published in Training & Behavior
April 5, 2021
5 min read
Why Do Dogs Howl?
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

There’s something distinctly mysterious about the sound of a howling dog.

A dog’s rhythmic and steady howl may inspire you to wonder: what are they thinking? is something wrong? why won’t they stop?

Perhaps a neighborhood dog’s frequent howling has agitated you to the point of curiosity. Or, maybe you simply want to more deeply understand the mind of your own four-legged friend.

Whatever has sparked your interest, I’ve got you covered as we explore the “why” behind the howl. Here’s the gist of it:

Dogs howl for a variety of reasons. They howl to express emotions like excitement or nervousness, respond to and alert others to changes in their environment and respond to physical pain. Howling is also a way for them to get attention from other dogs or humans.

What exactly do these reasons mean? Should you even let your dog howl? If so, when and how should you stop it?

I’ll answer all of those questions now.

First, let’s dig more deeply into the main reasons dogs howl:

1. Dogs Howl to Express Their Emotions

Two common emotions dogs express through howling are excitement and nervousness.

A dog may let out a spirited howl due to stumbling upon something that catches their eye, such as an interesting-looking plant or small animal.

Nervousness is also commonly expressed through howling.

This is often caused by separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can be identified if the howling begins when you leave and stops when you return.

Howling due to separation anxiety is often accompanied by other destructive behaviors. These behaviors include potty accidents inside the home, pacing, and tearing up furniture and other items.

2. Dogs Howl in Response to Cues in Their Environment and to Alert Others to These Happenings

There are too many environmental cues to list all here, but some of these include:

  • Unfamiliar or worrisome noises: Howling can be a way for your dog to confirm that they have heard a sound that warrants further investigation.
  • Whereabouts of goods: Dogs also howl to guide their humans and other animals to their whereabouts, food, and other important locations, as is the case with packs of dogs in the wild.
  • Territory protection and announcement: Dogs may also howl as a warning sign to protect their territory and ward off potential intruders. Conversely, a dog may howl to make their presence known upon entering unfamiliar terrain.

3. Dogs Howl as a Response to Physical Pain

If howling is out of the norm for your dog, they may be doing it because they are hurting. Similar to the cries of a human, dogs can undoubtedly howl to express physical discomfort or injury.

Your dog may not be moving differently and or appear to be visibly hurt. Still, it could be a good idea to call the vet. The vet can check your dog out and rule out any serious physical issues that their howling may be trying to alert you to.

4. Dogs Howl as a Bid for Attention

If you think “they’re doing it for attention” sounds like making a dog out to be too human or that it sounds too manipulative of a motivation, think again.

“Howling for attention” is very commonly listed as a reason that dogs howl.

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Should You Let Your Dog Howl?

The answer may depend on the reason why they are howling and how you feel about it.

If there is a significant reason for the howling, rushing to hush your dog immediately without investigating their cries may do more harm than good. Consider asking these questions before you try to shut down the noise:

Is My Dog Howling Because He Is Hurt?

Howling can be an indicator that your dog is in physical pain. This can be a solid motivator to check it out and rule out any serious condition that could be at the root of your dog’s distress.

Since your dog can’t explain with words how he feels inside, any ongoing howls could be the coded message he is hoping will lead to his relief.

Is My Dog Howling to Warn Me of Danger?

Dogs use howling in the wild as a way to communicate threats and changes in their environment. Knowing this, it’s possible that a dog’s late-night howling may be their way of alerting you to a home intruder or another harmful situation.

Your dog’s howls may actually be powerful gifts. If those gifts are heeded with discernment and sensitivity, they can work for both their and your own good.

They don’t call a dog man’s best friend for nothing.

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What Should I Do If My Dog Is Howling All the Time?

So, you’ve checked to make sure your dog is happy, healthy, and taken care of. There’s no one breaking into your house or lurking in the bushes; however, your dog continues to howl.

Pervasive howling with no identifiable cause may be a sign that your dog is howling for attention.

If this howling, for no apparent reason, is disturbing you and/or your neighbors, there are ways to discourage your dog from howling.

How to Stop a Dog from Howling

The goal here is to stop any negative behavior and give your dog positive reinforcement for overall quieter behavior. Here are a few tips to rock this process:

DON’T:

  • Reward the howling with attention.
  • Be harsh or scold the dog for howling.
  • Worry about neighbors being annoyed by the howling; in the long run, they will howl less.
  • Lose patience if your dog doesn’t stop immediately; in time, they often will.

DO:

  • Calmly and kindly ignore the howling.
  • Remember, your dog is just doing what comes naturally to them.
  • Wait until they finish howling to shower them with attention and affection.
  • Monitor the situation and be open to adjusting the game plan as needed.

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Approach with Compassion

Learning the meanings behind a dog’s howl can help you to really get on their level and understand the heart behind their behavior.

As much as we love our canine companions, sometimes the barriers of language, perspective, and our own inherent differing experience of the world can feel like isolating obstacles to connection.

Howling with Your Dog Is a Bonding Ritual

Did you know that if you begin howling, your dog will likely join in with you? Why do they howl when you howl?

As much as this article is geared towards not only understanding but also managing your dog’s howling, it can foster compassion to realize that when dogs do things like joining in with a human’s howling, they experience this as a bonding moment.

Humans are wired for connections. Dogs are just the same in this regard. They seek the same feelings of being joined together in an attuned fashion with you.

In fact, when you and your dog howl together, these higher pitch noises release the feel-good chemicals, dopamine and oxytocin in your dog’s brain. So, when that happens, you two are experiencing a bonding moment.

And Isn’t That Sweet?

Understanding the many reasons behind why dogs howl can be a huge first step in bridging the gap between your perceptions and the inner workings of your dog’s unique world.

Knowing there are ways to manage and prevent howling can empower you as a dog parent. This knowledge can equip you to create the right behavioral modification plan for your furry friend if desired.

Gaining insight into how much your dog treasures feeling connected to you through the simple and playful act of howling together is an encouragement and reminder:

Always lead with love and empathy as you navigate their little quirks and ultimately create a stronger bond between you.


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Dog BehaviorsDog Training

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