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Why do dogs howl?

Golden labrador howling advice © Pixabay

Howling is a natural part of a dog’s life.  But too much of it can be a bad thing. Let's look at why dogs howl and how to stop them from howling too much.

By Daniel Mar

Why dogs howl?

Dogs are not the only animals that howl. Other howling species include monkeys, mice, and wolves.

Howling plays an important part in wolf culture. It's used to establish territory and boundaries. A howling pack of wolves is saying: “this is our space, not yours”. It also works as a natural “sat-nav”. Wolves can locate each by their howls, which can carry for many miles. Howling also has a social function. When wolves howl in unison, they're cementing the pack identity. They’re telling everybody else:  “this is who we are, and us guys stick together”.

Dog howling

Some experts suggest that dogs were first domesticated between 20,000-40,000 years ago. Today's modern dogs look very different from their early ancestors, but they still carry many of the same instincts; howling is just one of them.

The domesticated dog howls to attract attention, to “speak” to other dogs (you'll often see that when one starts howling, others join in), and also uses it as a warning. Some pooches will even howl along to music! Hunting dogs tend to be the biggest howlers, but every dog takes part in this behaviour!

Different dog breeds make different types of sounds. For instance, some dogs will produce more of a yodelling sound. Others, like Basset Hounds, will produce sounds that are more like baying. Greyhounds have the strangest howl of all - it's more like a “rooing” noise.

Why does my dog howl so much?

There's nothing wrong with a little bit of howling. It's perfectly natural. But excessive or distressed howling might be your dog's way of saying they're not happy. Common reasons for excessive howling include:

1#Separation anxiety

Dogs can howl if they're feeling lonely. After all, they are pack animals. The comfort of belonging to a group is vital in maintaining their physical and mental health. Other symptoms of separation anxiety include destructive behaviour, accidents around the house, and excessive barking. Separation anxiety is manageable, but it's best not leave any dog alone for long periods of time.

2#Illness or injury

Dogs will sometimes howl if they're sick or injured, as it helps soothe the pain. It also tells other members of the pack: “I need some help”. If your dog is howling for no obvious reason, take them for a check-up.

3#Response howling

Dogs are pack animals that mimic and reflect each other’s behaviour. If they can hear another dog howling, they’ll probably join in! This is also true of similar noises such as those of sirens or bells.

My dog is howling all the time, how do I stop them?

Excessive howling can be a problem. Your dog might be sick or anxious. It can also get pretty annoying, for you and your neighbours.           

Once your dog gets the right treatment, the howling should stop. It might be linked to an underlying medical issue, so take your pooch to a vet. In some cases, you may need to consult an animal behaviourist.

Indeed, excessive howling can also be associated with behavioural or emotional problems.

Remember that some dogs howl for attention. It's their way of asking for things, like affection or food. Giving in to them will usually re-enforce the negative behaviour, and your dog is unlikely to stop. You need to start ignoring this attention seeking behaviour. In fact, when your pup starts howling, you need to ignore him completely. Don't look at him. Don't touch him. Pretend he doesn't exist. It will be tough, but your dog will learn that howling gets him nowhere.

You can then start rewarding him for being quiet! When the howling stops, wait for 10-15 seconds, then praise his good behaviour or give him a little treat. A dog’s brain links actions and behaviours to positive or negative rewards. This kind of training "re-wires" their internal reward system. Instead of getting something nice for being loud, they're getting it for being quiet.

Some dogs howl more than others, and the majority of them will howl a little bit! In most cases though, it's just a way for dogs to express themselves! They might be saying hello to their friends, protecting the family home, or even just having a sing-along when a musical instrument is being played! This is all OK and it will usually stop after a short while. However, as with all excessive behaviour, too much howling can be a bad sign. Your pooch might be lonely or injured, or they may have picked up some bad habits.

Focus on why your dog is howling. This is the first step in managing any type of compulsive behaviour. Once you've established the cause, you can then make the right adjustments. Much of your dog's behaviour, including howling, is linked to their environment. If you create the right environment, you'll encourage the right kind of behaviour.