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Why do dogs howl?

Golden-Labrador-howling advice
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Howling is a natural part of a dog’s life.  But, like anything, too much dog howling is a bad thing. Let's look why dogs howl and how to stop a dog 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 are saying that this is our space, not yours. It also works as natural a “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. Their telling everybody else that this is who we, and that 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, and also uses it as a warning. Some dogs will even howl along to music! Certain breeds have certain kinds of howls. Some dogs will produce more of a yodelling sound. Other howls, like the basset hounds, will sound more like baying. But the greyhound has 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 howling, or howling with a distressed quality, 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. All dogs 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. Howling helps soothe the pain. It also tells other members of the pack that 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 others behaviour. If they can hear another dog howling, they’ll probably join in!

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. The constant howling can also get pretty annoying, for you and your neighbours.  

It might be linked to an underlying medical issue, so take your dog to a vet. Once your dog gets the right treatment, the howling should stop.

But 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 your dogs howling. In fact, when your dog starts howling, you need to ignore them completely. Don't look at them. Don't touch them. Pretend they don't exist. It will be tough, but your dog will learn that howling gets them nowhere.

You can then start rewarding them for being quiet! When the howling stops, wait for 10-15 seconds, then praise their good behaviour or give them a little treat. A dogs 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.

Summary

Some dog howl more than others, and the majority of dogs will howl a little bit! In most cases, your dog is just expressing themselves. They might be saying hello to their friends, protecting the family home, or even just having a sing-along. 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 dog 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.

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