Why do dogs howl?

April 13, 2012

The howling of a dog on an eerie dark moonless night would make your hair stand on end. It’s as if the dog is warning you that something sinister is about to happen. Superstitious beliefs are associated with the howling of a dog. These are baseless beliefs but folks believe that when a dog howls, there are evil spirits around. Dog howling is also a sign that the “reaper” has arrived and someone is about to die. Actually, the dog is really trying to tell you something (not necessarily creepy and ominous).

Like whining, barking and growling, howling is the dog’s way of communicating. In the dog parlance, it is their way of saying “I’m here or I’m lost, where are you?” A dog would whine when they want to solicit attention and care. Whining is most common in puppies. Mama dog would instantly attend to the puppies when they whine as more often it is a sign that the pups are hungry. A dog barks when it is excited or when it sensed an intruder. A growling dog is an aggressive one. Take heed, the dog is ready to attack! Howling is another form of vocal communication in dogs. Varying pitch of howl enables the dog to communicate with other dogs in far away locations. This form of communication is least used in domesticated dogs. Seldom would you hear a family dog howl, some never howl at all.

The howling of a dog is a carried over trait from their ancestors, the wolves. Studies conducted on wolves have noted that a wolf would howl when it wakes up. This howl will be answered by other wolves in the pack. It seems that this is their way of saying “good morning” and a vocal communication of staying in touch. A wolf that was separated from the pack would howl. Other pack members would answer the howl as an acknowledgment that the message was received. Wolves that are not members of the pack would howl too. Surprisingly, the timbre of the howl is recognized (seems like wolves have individual recognizable howls) and the lost wolf would stay clear of the area. Wolves howl to discourage other wolves from encroaching on the territory they have marked as theirs.

As stated, domesticated dogs seldom howl. But other dogs do even at the sound of a police, fire truck or ambulance siren. Some dogs would even howl at a fire truck on TV. This is an instinctive behavior of the dog. They interpret the siren as another howl and they would instinctively reply by howling too.

The howling of a domesticated dog can be a sign of separation anxiety. One dog owner has noted that the dog would howl every time he stays out late at night. This attitude is most common in dogs that formed a very close bonding with the master. A dog whose master has died would manifest the grief through howling.

Howling can also be a sign that the dog is bored. Dogs that are kenneled or left leashed outside the home for a considerable time would show its boredom through incessant barking and howling. The dog is lonely and hankers for the companionship of the family. Boredom and loneliness can be avoided if there is another pet that the dog can play with. If there is none, an alternative is to give the dog toys. This will reduce the dog’s excessive howling.

Surprisingly, howling can be a sign of happiness. People would sing at the top of their voice if they are happy and elated. A dog in a state of high excitement would howl too. Dogs think they are a part of the family, even if they are at the lowest rank. They would always want to join in family activities. If your singing is accompanied by the howling of the dog, don’t be offended. It does not mean that your singing is hurting the dog’s ears. It means that the dog is singing with you!

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