The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

Why do dogs howl?

By Lea Jaratz

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Not all dogs howl regularly, but all dogs can if they’re in the mood as it’s a vocal behavior leftover from their wolf ancestors. If you’re asking yourself “why do dogs howl” start by figuring out why a dog is howling, and then sort out how to stop a dog from howling.

Why do dogs howl at sirens?

Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t howl at sirens because they’re frustrated by the loud noise. Your dog doesn’t know that the siren is a man-made noise and likely interprets the high-pitched sound to be the howl of another dog. Because wolves and dogs use howling to echolocate with pack members, your dog likely thinks they are communicating with another dog.

In most cases, dogs stop howling when the siren has gone out of earshot, so unless you live next to a hospital or police station, a siren kicking off your dog’s howling shouldn’t warrant much behavioral intervention.

Why do dogs howl when they’re excited?

Howling is a normal way for dogs to express joy, whether it’s because someone gave them a cookie or they are reunited with their owners after months (or even minutes) apart. Some breeds just happen to be more prone to excitement howling, including hunting breeds (Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Coonhounds) as they’ve been bred to howl and alert their masters to something important and exciting and “wolfy” breeds (Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and American Eskimos). Wolfy isn’t a technical term, but you can’t help but see the resemblances to their wolf ancestors. Sometimes, the similarities extend to their vocal behaviors and excitement howling just part of owning one of these furry beasts.

What does it mean when a dog howls when I leave?

Your dog might not howl when you’re home, and you may never even know they howl unless the neighbors start complaining, but because dogs communicate and try to locate their pack members by howling, it’s not uncommon for dogs to howl when they’re left alone. It’s a bummer when a pet parent finds out that their dog has been howling when they’re home alone, but it’s likely due to loneliness or frustration.

Try these tricks to see if it’s a “quick fix” for your dog’s separation anxiety vocalizations:

  • Take your dog for a long walk or pay a game of fetch before you leave so they’re too tired to miss you
  • Offer your dog enrichment activities like a feeding puzzle or toy to occupy their mind when they’re alone
  • Turn on the TV or radio when you’re gone so your dog hears voices and feels less lonely. Some pet parents report better results with different kinds of music, so try turning the dial from classical to easy listening to find what works.

If these tips don’t reduce your dog’s howling, you may need to address your dog’s separation anxiety with behavioral modification or medical treatment.

What does it mean when a dog howls at night?

Some dogs feel loneliest at night, like their pack should all be together when it’s dark, so howling due to separation anxiety can peak at night. It’s entirely possible your dog misses you and is hoping you’ll howl back to let them know where you are. Try the aforementioned tricks to help with howling due to separation anxiety and you’ll likely see some improvement.

Should I be worried if my dog is howling?

Howling is not inherently bad, but if your dog is howling constantly or has started howling more without a change in their routine, you should get them checked by a veterinarian to rule out an injury, illness, or canine cognitive dysfunction.

In most cases, howling is a pretty manageable behavior, but work with your vet or a positive reinforcement trainer if the issue is getting out of control and you’re likely to have a quieter and happier dog.

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