Our dogs can seem pretty far removed from their wolf ancestors – that is until they throw back their heads and let out a long, doleful howl.
This puzzling canine behavior can be frustrating for pet parents with close neighbors, but an important part of managing howling is understanding what our pups are trying to communicate. Decode these attention-grabbing vocalizations, and you can help meet your dogs’ needs while strengthening your bond.
The siren from a passing fire truck or ambulance can elicit a howl from even a typically quiet pup.
Your dog’s instinct to add noise on top of noise may seem counterintuitive, so many dog owners assume their pet is howling because the high-pitched sound is painful to their sensitive ears. The good news is that most experts agree that it’s more likely that these howls are territorial in nature.
Whether or not they find them threatening, modern dogs probably interpret sirens as another animal announcing its presence. A deep howl is your dog’s way of letting whoever is out there aware that their pack is nearby. This theory is confirmed as emergency vehicles pass by and the sirens fade into the distance: our dogs likely believe that they have successfully driven away the potential interloper.
Did you know wolves howl at each other, not at the moon?
Howling is the sophisticated language of our dogs’ ancestors, and though they may sound the same to our ears, these vocalizations can serve many purposes, like:
It’s important to remember that, even though you may be far away from the arctic tundra, your dog considers you and your household members (furry and otherwise) to be a pack family. Though the nuances may be lost on us, most of the time, howling is just our dogs’ attempt to communicate with us in their language.
If calling out to lost and distant pack members is one of the primary purposes of howling, it’s no wonder it’s a common behavior of lonely dogs.
Though you can’t explain to your pup that their baying doesn’t reach your office, you can take steps to reduce separation anxiety. Dogs that get plenty of exercise and have access to stimulating toys and activities are much more likely to spend their downtime in silence.
Before you write off your dog’s howling, it’s important to make certain that it isn’t a response to an illness or injury.
Vocalizations can sometimes be a way of letting their human parents know that our dogs aren’t feeling well. If the howling doesn’t have an obvious cause (like a passing emergency vehicle) or doesn’t resolve quickly, it’s important to rule out any health conditions that may be causing your pup pain.
More wolf-like dogs are notorious for their howling, but all dogs have the potential to be vocal.
Particularly, hunting breeds tend to retain the instinct to howl in order to strategize with their pack. Though training can reduce unsolicited baying, some dogs will be naturally more inclined to the behavior, including:
If you’ve eliminated the possibility that howling is due to a health condition, the best way to reduce unwanted vocalizing is to avoid reinforcing it.
Teach your pup that howling isn’t the preferred modality of communication in your pack by waiting to respond or make eye contact until your dog settles down. Reward calm, quiet behavior with treats and attention rather than scolding. Positive training techniques aren’t just good for your relationship with your dog – they are more effective over time.