Why Do Dogs Howl?

Sometimes there is no reason at all, but other times howling is a verbal clue to what's really going on with your pup.

We’ve all seen and heard the haunting images of the lonely wolf howling at the moon, but is the wolf lonely and is she really howling at the moon? Scientists can’t even answer why do dogs howl at certain times but that howling wolf does give us some clues as to why dogs howl today.

They’re getting back to their roots

Breeds that have ancestral roots to wolves, like the husky, Alaskan malamute, Akita, and Shiba Inu are more inclined to howl, says Stephen M. Katz, VMD, general practitioner and owner of Bronx Veterinary Center and founder of Therabis. “It’s not so much that dogs howl because they are anxious, but rather as an atavistic (return to their ancient practice) response to bring their pack back together. When a dog’s pack—which now consists of its owners or family, is out of sight for long or not providing the attention the dog wants, these breeds use their vocalizations to signal to the ‘pack’ that it’s time to get back together,” says Dr. Katz. Every dog has the potential to be a howler or a barker but canine experts say these breeds make the quietest roommates.

They miss you

Two tell-tail signs of separation anxiety are howling and acting out destructively, says Dr. Katz. “The best way to help a dog that is acting out in these ways is to get them outdoors and running around. This helps dogs get out that extra energy they have stored up.” Dr. Katz also recommends Therabis Calm and Quiet, which helps dogs maintain calm energy and overall comfort. You should also try these things to keep your dog happy and ease separation anxiety while you’re at work.

Howling is a dog’s social media platform

Ever wonder why do dogs howl at sirens or when your kid plays the trumpet? Dr. Katz says they may howl in response to stimuli like sirens, music, or fireworks is simply a dog’s way of communicating. “Dogs in the wild used to howl to communicate with each other over long distances. In our urban world, howls from the pack are replaced with sounds like sirens and music, but dogs still have the atavistic response of howling back.” Here are some natural ways to calm dogs who get anxious when they hear loud noises.

They’re just doing their job

When it comes to pack life, dogs have specific jobs to do. Some are scouts who venture out and howl back to the pack that they are hot on the trail of something. Back at pack central, the leader of the pack will howl to call the scouts home or alert them of threats or potential predators. “While evolutionarily beneficial in the wild, howling is now often a source of complaints in apartment buildings where these larger and more active dog breeds have a lot of pent up energy,” says Dr. Katz. Make sure your howling dog gets this much exercise each day to release that energy.

Howling works!

“If your pup howls and you give him tons of attention, he will learn to howl any time he wants a pet, a walk, or even a treat from the kitchen,” says Colleen-Demling Riley, a canine behaviorist at Dogtopia. If you’re confident he is not howling because he is sick, then ignore it and calmly praise him for being quiet. Follow these other dog training secrets to get the results you want.

They don’t feel good

Why do dogs howl when they are in a crate? Dogs may howl when they are sick, especially if they are crated or confined as a way to let anyone in earshot they’re not feeling well, says Jen Kasten, DVM, from Tomlyn Veterinary Science. You should be aware of these other signs your dog isn’t feeling too well.

I got a squirrel!

Hunting breeds such as beagles, foxhounds, and basset hounds howl to alert their human hunting partner when they locate prey, Dr. Kasten says. Some may howl at the base of the tree until their human partner shows up. And howling acts an audible signal to reunite the dog and hunter if they get separated in the field.

You have no idea

Sometimes, you don’t have a clue to why dogs howl, but if howling is something new for your pup, you should find out why.”Whenever a dog is howling, it is important to determine the underlying reason for it,” suggests Dr. Kasten. Call your vet if suspect something is amiss. Your veterinarian can help determine if the howling is a symptom of a medical issue, but if your pup is suffering from separation anxiety contact a canine behaviorist for guidance. At least we can explain why dogs do these weird things.

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Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and Realtor.com., among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.