Why Do Dogs Howl? These Are the Top 7 Reasons—and How to Stop It

Howling is a verbal clue as to what's really going on with your pup. Here's how to interpret it—and stop it if it's becoming too much.

Some dog behaviors are easy to interpret, like the pleading look your pup sends your way when you’re eating a juicy hamburger. (Yep, it wants a bite.) But other behaviors are downright perplexing, leaving you to wonder, why do dogs bark when there’s nothing to bark at? Why does my dog sigh? Why does my dog tilt its head? And why does my dog howl seemingly without reason?

Is all the howling driving you bonkers? To get to the bottom of your pup’s loudest pastime, we turned to the pros. Read on to get the answer to a question all pet owners have asked at some point: Why does my dog howl?

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Why do dogs howl?

Not even scientists know why dogs howl at certain times. That said, the dog’s ancestor, the wolf, offers clues that may help answer questions, like “Why does my dog howl?” and “Why do puppies howl?”

1. They’re getting back to their roots

Breeds that can trace their roots back to wolves, like the husky, Alaskan malamute, Akita and Shiba Inu, are more inclined to howl, says Stephen M. Katz, VMD, a general practitioner and owner of Bronx Veterinary Center. Yet all types of dogs, including calm dog breeds, are capable of rising to the occasional howl, so what does dog howling mean?

“It’s not so much that dogs howl because they are anxious, but rather as an atavistic response to bring their pack back together,” Dr. Katz says. That is, your pup’s howl may be a throwback to its ancient roots. “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.”

2. They miss you

Two tell-tail—er, telltale—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,” he says. “This helps dogs get out that extra energy they have stored up.”

Dr. Katz also recommends CBD dog treats, which he says help dogs maintain calm energy and overall comfort. If that doesn’t do the trick, these products can help your dog stay busy (and avoid separation anxiety) while you’re at work.

3. They’re communicating with other dogs

Whether it’s the primitive howl of wolf dog breeds or the melodious baying of hound dogs, the sound in concert can raise some questions: Why do dogs howl together? Do they have a secret language we don’t know about?

Well, sort of. “Dogs in the wild used to howl to communicate with each other over long distances,” says Dr. Katz. “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.”

In other words, your howling pup may be communicating with other dogs or even stimuli like music or fireworks. As most canine owners know, dogs are scared of fireworks (hence the cries), but you can take steps to calm your anxious doggy.

4. They’re just doing their job

White Dog Howling On Rock Against TreesPongsak Sawangarom/Getty Images

Ever wonder, why do dogs howl at sirens? And why do they make the same sound when my kid plays the trumpet? Well, it turns out they’re just doing their jobs.

When it comes to pack life, dogs have specific roles. Some are scouts that venture out and howl back to the pack that they are hot on the trail of someone (or something) threatening. (And siren sounds, for dogs, may seem threatening.) Back at pack central, the leader 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. Stay on your neighbor’s good side and choose one of these cute dog breeds for apartment living that don’t need a ton of daily exercise.

5. They don’t feel good

Dogs may howl when they are sick, especially if they are crated or confined, as a way to let anyone in earshot know they’re not feeling well, says Jen Kasten, DVM, professional services veterinarian with Dechra Veterinary Products. It can be hard to know for sure whether the cry has to do with illness, so be aware of these signs that your dog isn’t feeling well.

6. They want attention

It’s pretty darn cute when a little puppy howls like it’s a big dog, but encouraging your wee pup could be one of the puppy training mistakes you’ll regret later. “If your pup howls and you give him tons of attention, he will learn to howl anytime he wants a pet, a walk or even a treat from the kitchen,” says Colleen Demling-Riley, a canine behaviorist.

If you’re confident your dog isn’t howling because it’s sick, ignore it and calmly praise it for being quiet. Follow these other dog-training secrets to get the results you want.

7. They want to share good news

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

Even if there isn’t any real hunting involved, your dog may howl as a telltale sign of happiness and pride when it discovers something new or uncovers a bizarre object in the backyard.

How to stop your dog from howling

Howling is a natural instinct for dogs, but admittedly, excessive howling can become an issue at home. We consulted celebrity dog trainer Chrissy Joy for tips and tricks for curbing your pup’s howls, and she recommends the following strategies:

1. Give them something to do

Sometimes, dogs howl because they’re too excited or overstimulated. If that’s the case with your fur baby, Joy suggests finding new ways to redirect that behavior. “Offering their favorite chew, bone or puzzle activity may redirect their desire to howl,” she explains. She also advises parents of howling pups to praise and reward quiet behavior at home, as it can train your dog to become comfortable with less-vocal behavior.

2. Exercise them

Another strategy to try on howling and overstimulated pups is to exercise them. If your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, they could become bored and engage in less-than-desirable behavior, like excessive howling. That’s why Joy recommends adequately exercising your dog each day. “This way, when you are looking for quiet and calm behavior, your dog will be more likely to rest and relax,” she explains. She recommends activities like trying new sports, going to training classes and meeting up with pals for hikes.

3. Invest in a two-way camera to observe their behavior

If you know your dog is always howling when you’re away, Joy recommends getting an interactive two-way camera to keep an eye on them. “I use a pet camera that allows you to be notified if your dog it howling (it can differentiate between barking and howling) and also allows you to toss them a treat,” she explains. “You can talk to your pet, toss a treat and keep an eye on their actions while you are away from the home.” This allows you to reward their good behavior even when you aren’t home and see if there’s something that triggers the howling.

What to do if you don’t know why your dog is howling

If howling is a new thing for your doggo and you can’t pinpoint the reason for the sound, you may still be asking yourself “Why does my dog howl?” When you get to that point, it’s time to call in a pro who can speak to your pet’s behavior.

“Whenever a dog is howling, it is important to determine the underlying reason for it,” says Dr. Kasten. Call your vet if you 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. Joy recommends a professional positive-reinforcement trainer, specifically. “A positive-reinforcement trainer is someone who uses treats and toys to train your dog, teaching the dog to volunteer wanted manners and actions,” she explains.

Next, find out if dogs can see in the dark.

About the experts

  • Stephen M. Katz, VMD, is a general practitioner, owner of Bronx Veterinary Center and the founder of Therabis. He’s worked with animals for more than 50 years and has practiced vet medicine since 1984. He also has plenty of fur babies in his family, including a dog named Molly, a cat named Puck and two rats named Diamond and Ruby.
  • Jen Kasten, DVM, is a professional services veterinarian with Dechra Veterinary Products. She has a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Ohio State University and has a special interest in anesthesia and analgesia. She also shares her home with two fur babies—a border collie and kitty.
  • Colleen Demling-Riley is a canine behaviorist and founder of Pawtopia. She has two decades of hands-on dog training experience, holds several credentials and has contributed to publications like Huffington Post and Woman’s Day.
  • Chrissy Joy is a celebrity dog trainer, live performer and International Trick Dog Champion who has been featured on PIX11 and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, as well as in USA Today. Her goal is to inspire others to develop their bond with their pup through activities like trick training.
Cozy working evening during pandemicsvetikd/Getty Images

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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, Family Handyman and Taste of Home, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center.