Why Do Dogs Howl?
Is that a wolf!? 👀
Have you ever been sitting in your house minding your own business when suddenly your dog lets out a great big howl?
WHOA — where did that even COME from?!
While your dog suddenly transforming into a wolf right before your eyes might be confusing — and super impressive — it’s actually pretty common.
The Dodo spoke to Dr. Zay Satchu, cofounder and chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet in New York City, and Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and a veterinary consultant for FiveBarks, to learn more about why dogs howl.
Why is my dog howling?
“Simply put, howling is just another form of communication for your dog,” Dr. Satchu told The Dodo.
Your dog’s howling behavior goes all the way back to his wild relative, the wolf.
In the wild, wolves use howling to communicate with each other. Howling lets wolves locate members of their pack when they’re out hunting or doing other wolf things.
“For wolves, howling is used to indicate location or impending danger, but for your dog, it is more likely to be an attention-seeking or excitement behavior,” Dr. Satchu said.
Since you’re basically part of your pup’s pack, he might use the howling behavior as a way to try to communicate with you.
“Maybe he is saying, ‘Hey, you! Come play with me!’ or, ‘Hey, you! Let’s go outside!’” Dr. Satchu said. “Not all breeds howl often, but if you have a husky or a beagle, you’ll be no stranger to the comical sounds.”
Common reasons a dog howls:
- To greet other dogs
- To express boredom
- To try to get your attention
- To communicate when hunting
- To mimic sirens and other loud noises
- To warn other animals away from their territory
- To announce their presence in a new location
You might even notice your pup letting out a howl when he hears other sounds that resemble a pack of howling wolves — like your neighbor's Siberian husky singing out the window next door — or when you happen to watch a movie with howling animals.
Some songs can even trigger the behavior.
Besides howling to communicate, there are also some other situations where your dog might be howling because he isn’t feeling his best.
If this is happening, it’s important to get your pup evaluated.
Medical reasons a dog might howl:
If you think your dog’s howling might have a medical reason behind it, consult your veterinarian to see what’s going on (and to get your pup the help he needs).
Why do dogs howl at night?
You may find your dog howls more at night than at any other time of day. This could be for a variety of different reasons, including:
If your dog is left alone at night, whether he sleeps in the living room or another part of the home, he could be howling because he misses you.
“This is commonly seen in those who are left in a separate part of the home or in the garden to sleep,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “These dogs can be lonely and seeking companionship.”
Remember that dogs are social creatures, so being separated — especially when his family is physically home — can be stressful for him.
He hears something
Dogs are also more reactive to sounds at night because there’s little distraction occurring around the home. This means that the regular sounds that happen during the day are heightened when everything else around him is quiet.
Even if he doesn’t seem to mind these sounds during the day, it may sound way louder to him at night, which might prompt him to mimic them with some late-night howling.
“In the middle of the night, they are more likely to hear a distant bark or overhead plane,” Dr. Simon said.
He’s asking for something
Your furry friend may also be asking you for something. Perhaps he's crated and wants to get out. Maybe he’s hungry, thirsty or needs to pee.
“While most dogs will initially whine or bark to get their owner’s attention, this can escalate to howling if their demands are not met and they are getting desperate,” Dr. Simon said.
Why do dogs howl in their sleep?
It’s actually pretty uncommon for a dog to howl in their sleep. “While we may hear the odd whine, groan or even bark, for a dog to be howling would be rare,” Dr. Simon said. “This is because the body works to prevent [the dog from] moving about too much or being active while they sleep, and howling requires a lot of movement from the mouth and neck.”
Howling can be caused by a nightmare or confusion if your dog has just woken up.
But if your dog’s definitely asleep and starts howling, there’s a possibility he might be seizing. “If a dog is howling but seems to be asleep, they may be having a seizure,” Dr. Simon said. “Other signs of a fit can include muscle tremors, urination and limb paddling.”
If you think your dog is experiencing a seizure, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
Can all dogs howl?
While all dogs have the ability to howl, it’s true that some breeds howl far more than others. “The more ‘wolf-like’ breeds, such as the Siberian husky and malamute, are some of the biggest offenders,” Dr. Simon said. “This is no doubt due to their close relation to the wolf, who is well-known for howling.”
Other dog breeds known for howling include:
- American Eskimos
- Basset hounds
How to stop a dog from howling
It’s important to note that excessive howling is typically not your dog being naughty or acting out. In general, it’s usually just his way of letting you know something isn’t right — and in these cases, you wouldn’t want to force him to stop howling.
There are times, though, when you can stop some of your dog’s howling before it even starts, like if he’s howling excessively due to being underexercised or understimulated. “We need to work hard every day to keep our dogs’ bodies and minds in tip-top shape and to ensure they have plenty to keep them busy,” Dr. Simon said.The same goes for dogs who howl when anxious or stressed. “We can address this by realizing there is a problem and working with a canine behaviorist to help fix it in the long term,” Dr. Simon said. “Some dogs may benefit from anxiolytic medicine that their vet can prescribe.”
When it comes to howls that your dog does just to get your attention, it’s a good idea to simply ignore him. “Teaching a ‘quiet’ command is also useful, especially for short bursts of howls, for example, in response to the mail coming through the door,” Dr. Simon said.
How to teach the ‘quiet’ command
When it comes to teaching your dog the “quiet” command, you’ll mainly need to watch out for moments when she stops howling and reward her while saying “quiet” in a calm voice. “When your dog is calm and settled, be sure to reward that desired behavior with lots of vocal praise and treats,” Dr. Simon said. “This way, your clever dog will soon learn that the world is a better place when they are not howling!”
So while your pup howling in the backyard might seem a little weird the first time you hear it, know that if there’s no medical reason, she’s probably just connecting to her roots — or asking you to join her!