Most of us might associate howling with wolves, but anyone who has a dog—or whose neighbor has a dog—knows that dogs can howl just as well as their ancestors. Howling can be fun or annoying, depending on your perspective, but it’s not without purpose.
Dogs use their barks, growls, whines and of course howls to communicate with their humans and each other in many ways.
What is a howl?
Dogs make many different sounds, and barking is probably the one people are most familiar with. But a howl differs from a regular bark in several ways, says veterinarian Ryan Llera of the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Ontario, Canada.
“Barking is a faster, more communicative sound that’s better understood than howling,” says Llera. “Barking can communicate joy, fear, aggression or attention seeking. Howling is less understood and is often seen as an expression of sadness or frustration. But in reality, it is more of a dog-to-dog communication to let other dogs know what they’re feeling.”
Howling seems to be innate among members of the canine community; with wolves, coyotes and jackals also howl. And in fact, compared to wild dogs, domestic dogs don’t “really howl,” according to Barbara Sherman, a veterinary behaviorist at North Carolina State University in a 2015 interview with National Geographic. A true howl, Sherman said, is a “sustained, long-range call”.
But some domestic dog breeds seem to howl more than others. Llera says the same genetic differences that determine how breeds look could explain why some breeds howl more than others. “Then again, it can also relate more directly to the individual, regardless of race,” he says. For example, some dogs — like beagles, coonhounds, bloodhounds, and basset hounds — produce a unique sound called barking, which makes the breed more likely to howl. Huskies are also more likely to howl; some believe this is because the breed’s DNA may be directly linked to the ancient Siberian wolf.
What do dogs say when they howl?
When a dog howls, they are trying to convey a number of feelings or messages, either with their humans or other dogs, or both. Sometimes a dog’s howl is triggered when it hears an external sound, such as a siren or another dog’s bark. You’ll probably know this is the case if the dog stops howling when the external auditory trigger does. In these cases, it is highly likely that the dog is simply letting its owner know that it is aware of its surroundings.
When a dog howls, they may also try to share their location with other dogs in their pack, including their human. For example, after being left home alone, a dog may howl when it hears its human driving home or climbing stairs.
On the other hand, sometimes a dog’s howl means the opposite: it could be saying “back off”. For example, dogs sometimes howl to ward off others, signaling to other dogs or humans that this is their territory. Dogs also howl when nervous; a puppy with separation anxiety may howl when away from humans or in pain.
But our furry friends will also howl just to get attention – or when they’re too happy.
How do I know what message my dog is sending?
As we mentioned, there are plenty of reasons why a dog might howl, which might confuse you if it’s your dog who is howling. Are they sad? Happy? Just howl at the moon? Unfortunately, Llera says, humans usually can’t tell what dogs are trying to say just by the sound of howls.
“People are unlikely to be able to differentiate between the meanings of a howl without some kind of visual frame of reference,” he says, “or if they could see their dogs howl before and know what was going on at that time. that time.”
To understand why your dog is howling, it is necessary to use contextual cues. Is there another dog nearby? Does your dog show any other physical signs of injury? Have you noticed a high-pitched noise nearby that could disturb your pet?
What if your dog’s howling becomes annoying? Can you soothe him? Unfortunately, as anyone with a loud dog or a disturbed neighbor knows, sometimes we want our dogs to be quiet. But since dogs often use howls and barks to communicate, is it even a good idea to stop them if we can?
“It can depend on what they are screaming for and if they have any needs, like comfort, companionship, food, etc.,” Llera explains. “I wouldn’t say it’s harmful to try to stop dogs from howling, as long as there’s no negative reinforcement or punishment.”
How do you do this? Here are some suggestions. If your dog suffers from separation anxiety and howls when home alone, try a few distractions like chew toys or even leaving the TV on. Or in more severe cases, medication may be needed.
If your dog is howling to get your attention, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says you need to teach the dog that howling doesn’t work. Don’t inadvertently reward him for his behavior. Instead, completely ignore them when they start howling; do not look at them, pet them or talk to them, including scolding them. Reward them only when they are silent. This includes giving them food, treats, toys, etc.
Of course, sometimes dogs just want to howl, and there’s not much we can do about it.
“They can also just express themselves,” says Llera.