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Why do Dogs Howl?

If you own a dog, you’ve definitely heard it howl before. Sometimes it is in response to another dog, sometimes it can be because you have come home after being out for a while and sometimes it might be because they’re excited. There are many reasons that your dog may howl and chances are you’ve wondered what causes them to throw their head back into the sky and make this wailing noise loud enough for everyone within a two-mile radius to hear.

Dogs are a distant ancestor of the wolf, and this may be part of the reason that they howl. This instinct is still embedded in their genetics. It may be that dogs don’t even know why they’re howling, they just feel the urge to do so. Remember that while it may be annoying at times, howling is a perfectly normal thing for your dog to do, as long as it’s not excessive or chronic.

Why do wolves howl? In the wild (where our beloved furry friends originated), they howled to signal one another. A dog that may have wandered off will howl to alert the other pack member that it is gone, and in turn the pack will howl to guide the lost wolf back. Another reason that they may howl is to warn predators or other packs that they are encroaching onto another’s’ territory. Now our dogs are domesticated, they may equate loud sounds (like sirens or car alarms) to other dogs howling, so they howl back. They may also use it similarly to warning other packs – if another dog gets too close they may howl to warn them off.

Howling like this is perfectly natural and nothing to be worried about. It is simply an evolutionary response left over from their days before they became domesticated. They are other reasons that your dog may howl, and if you think this is the case, you should seek more professional help.

Sometimes a dog will howl if it is sick or injured. Much in the same way that humans cry when we hurt ourselves, dogs will howl to alert their owner of an injury. If you notice that your dog is howling more than usual, or has started howling having never done so before, it may be best to take them to their vet so they can get checked out. The vet can give them a proper once over and make sure that your poor pup isn’t injured and you haven’t realised, or make sure that they’re not sick in some way that isn’t visible.

Separation anxiety is also another reason that dogs may howl. Like lost dogs howling to find their pack in the wilderness, dogs who suffer from separation anxiety may howl because they think they have ‘lost you’. Separation anxiety is usually accompanied by frantic pacing or destroying things. You can help ease your dog’s separation anxiety over time, but if you are aware that they may howl from time to time, it may be best to warn your neighbours!

If you own a dog, you will know that dogs can be as manipulative as any human. We’ve all seen those sad puppy dog eyes just before we’re about to leave. Howling can be used in the same way. Howling elicits a certain emotion from us owners, generally one to protect or pay attention to our pups. If you have also given your dog a treat or cuddle when they howl, they will have learnt to associate howling with getting this attention. Therefore, they will howl every time they want your undivided attention and, as dog owners know, this can be an awful lot of the time! You can reduce the howling by stopping rewards such as treats or pats when they howl and ignore it (as hard as they may make it!) Eventually they will learn that their howling isn’t getting the results that they want and they will likely change to another tactic.

If another dog in your neighbourhood is prone to barking or howling, your dog may just howl in response to them. In the wild, dogs and wolves howled to one another to coordinate positions in attacking prey, or to make sure everyone was heading the same way. If your dog hears another dog from a few doors down barking or howling, they may assume that this dog is trying to communicate with them. They will howl back in order to ‘answer’ or respond to the initial bark.

Some dog breeds are known to howl far more than any other breed. Beagles, Hounds, Dachshunds and Huskies are all known for their barking or howling abilities, possible due to their closer relation to the wolf. It is important to remember that sometimes there is no reason for a dog to howl, but they may just do it because they like the sound. In the same way that some humans enjoy singing to themselves, dogs may just be using howling as their way of humming a tune. Obviously, this isn’t a proven fact, but it is really that hard to imagine?

Like human communication, howling has no fixed meaning and can change each time they do it. Once you get to know your dog and their individual characteristics, you will come to understand their own barking and howling. You will also discover that dogs can have different howling and you will learn the difference between all their different kinds of howls. If your dog is a howler, and you think that it might be annoying the neighbours, or becoming a problem then there are plenty of things that you can do to stop them howling.