Dogs might not speak the way humans do, but they certainly communicate verbally.
Our furry canine friends use barks, grunts, growls, yips, groans, snorts, and other orally generated noises to express themselves and interact with each other and humans.
Howling is one common form of canine verbal communication.
Some dogs howl a lot, while others rarely express themselves in that way. Some breeds have loud, ear-piercing howls, while others’ howls never quite reach that volume. But every dog can howl and does so occasionally.
But why do dogs howl? What purpose does all the noise serve? Are they just channelling their inner wolves, or is there more going on here?
Why Do Dogs Howl?
There are several reasons a dog might howl. Some breeds, such as hounds, are more prone to howling for every reason listed below, plus more. Other breeds are likely to howl only when presented with certain stimuli on the list.
One way or another, a dog howls for a reason. Here are some of the most likely motives.
I’ve Got Something To Say!
First and foremost, howling is a form of communication. Dogs howl to send a message, a warning, or even instructions.
In the wild, canines live in packs. These packs sometimes need to communicate across long distances. The most effective way to achieve this communication is through loud, extended sounds that can carry over distance. That’s why a dog’s howls can be so long and loud.
I Found Something!
Howls also notify a dog’s pack (canine or human) that they discovered something. This behavior is especially common in hunting breeds.
When your dog trees a squirrel or a cat, they are likely to howl insistently. This isn’t an attempt to scare poor Muffin into submission; it’s actually a way of notifying you that your dog cornered prey.
What Is That Awful Noise?
Another common cause for howling is a loud or high-pitched noise that the dog finds unfamiliar. Many dogs howl in response to sirens, fireworks, storms, and even certain musical instruments.
If you’re practicing your viola and your dog starts to howl, don’t assume he’s just being a harsh music critic. It’s actually natural for canines to respond to unfamiliar or high-pitched sounds with a series of howls.
I’ve Got Your Back!
Sometimes, dogs howl to announce they are alert and standing guard. Again, this motive can be traced back to the canine nature of traveling in packs.
When a dog is standing guard, howling serves two functions. First, it notifies her packmates that she is on duty and will keep an eye out for any encroaching threats. Second, it warns any potential threats in the area to stay away.
Another motive for howling is the need to draw packmates (or human family members) to a dog’s position. In some cases, a dog howls to notify his pack of his location and to get them to gather in that place.
Don’t Come Over Here!
In addition to howling to draw pack members to an area, dogs can also howl to warn them away. If a dog discovers potential dangers in a location, she will often howl to alert her family to stay far away.
If it seems strange that dogs use howling to accomplish these opposite goals, remember that not every howl is the same. In a pack, different types of howls will carry different messages.
Another function howling serves is to alert packmates that a dog is approaching. Dogs will often howl in much the same way a patrol car uses its siren. Dogs want to alert their pack that they are approaching so they will not startle them.
Pay Attention To Me!
Another common purpose of howling is to attract attention. Many times, if a dog is bored or feeling neglected, he will howl to capture the attention of humans or packmates. Let’s face it: the loud, high-pitched noise of a howl is difficult to ignore.
Sometimes, dogs howl to indicate they are nervous or uncomfortable. Just like humans, dogs find new and unfamiliar situations stressful. Howling is one way of notifying packmates (including humans) that a dog is anxious and would prefer to escape a situation.
I’m In Pain!
Howling can also be a sign that a dog is in pain. If a dog is injured or sick, she will often howl to let her humans or packmates know something is wrong.
Again, since different-sounding howls can indicate different things, your dog probably has a specific howl that indicates he needs medical attention, so you’ll want to be hyper-aware of the way this particular howl sounds.
Should You Be Worried About Your Dog Howling?
In most cases, howling is a natural behaviour for dogs, especially in hunting breeds. Although howling can be annoying, it’s generally not a health or well-being concern.
There are, however, exceptions.
Some dogs howl because of separation anxiety. They experience extreme distress when apart from their humans and react accordingly. If your dog howls because of this mental anguish, you will want to work with a veterinarian or canine behavioural expert to alleviate the stress brought on by your absence.
As noted above, dogs can also howl because they are in pain or ill. In these cases, you will obviously want to take your dog to the vet to identify and treat the root cause.
Should You Stop Your Dog From Howling?
Whether your dog should be allowed to howl or not is up to you as the dog parent.
Some people have no problem with dogs howling in the yard or at the dog park, but don’t want to deal with it at home. Others prefer their dogs to never howl at all.
You can train your dog to stop howling through several techniques. The most effective rely on positive reinforcement.
The Bottom Line
Dogs howl for various reasons: to announce cornered prey, draw packmates to or away from an area, gain attention, react to unfamiliar or bothersome noises, and communicate discomfort, pain, or illness.
Howling is generally nothing to worry about, although if your dog is trying to communicate pain or separation anxiety, you should consult a vet.
You can train your dog not to howl if you want. Just know that howling is a natural behaviour, and your dog will require consistent training to kick the habit.