Why Do Dogs Howl?

labrador puppy sitting in grass and howling

Dogs are communicative, social animals. While people don’t entirely understand their language, after living with them for millennia, humans have started to get clues to what certain actions mean. One thing that most dogs do, whether a wolf or a chihuahua, is howl. Why do dogs howl? Here are some reasons:

1. Howling is Evolutionary

Like traits in most animals, howling is Darwinian. Wolves, the predecessor to our four-legged friends, howled.

They did this to project their location to the rest of their pack. The strongest wolves in the pack howled as a signal to other animals to keep away.

Fido probably doesn’t howl to show off their location under the bed, but its core function as a form of communication still stands.

2. They Are Saying That They Are Ready For Anything

Ever wonder why a choir of neighborhood dogs all seem to sing in unison when an ambulance or fire truck’s siren wails past? It’s to signal that they are ready to confront whatever sound that represents, whether that’s protecting their pack (their human family) or joining in the fun.

A way to see if they are responding to a sound is to notice if they stop when the sound stops. The same goes to gauge if they are howling in response to another dog’s vocalizations or not.

This is usually not something to worry about unless your dog becomes almost too responsive. This over-responsiveness could signal other things, such as anxiety, that need to be addressed.

3. Your Dog Wants To Guide You

Why do dogs howl when there is nothing to howl at? Well, they could be trying to grab your attention. This stretches back to the evolutionary aspect of howling. In nature, a portion of the pack stays back while the more acclimated members hunt for food. While splitting up, howling is a way for the members of the pack to locate each other.

The wolves that stay back use howling as a sort of vocal flair that allows the hunting expedition to relocate the rest of their clan. When a domesticated dog, who’s been left alone all day, notices their family approaching the house, it may be an instinct of theirs to howl in order to help us home.

4. They Want Attention

What kind of dog isn’t interested in attention? So, why do dogs howl in order to get it? A high-pitched howl is hard to ignore, which means it has probably worked in getting them attention before. While a well-placed howl can be effective, people have to learn to not cave to their demands as it encourages this ear-piercing behavior.

Instead, don’t interact with them at all, whether that’s positively or negatively. A positive response, like a pet, will encourage the behavior. Scolding is still attention, so it encourages the behavior, but can also weaken the bond you have with your dog. Avoiding the reinforcement of undesirable behavior is one of the most valuable dog training tips.

Therefore, if you don’t want your dog to howl to get your attention, the smart action is to ignore them. While this could take some time to work, it’s the truest way to train attention-seeking howls out of the dog. Like most dogs, they want attention often, So, if you don’t train this out of your dog, then expect to hear a lot of howls in the future.

5. Howling Could Mean Something Is Wrong

While it’s advised to ignore most howls, some shouldn’t be ignored. If a dog is normally docile, but they start howling frequently, and not in response to stimuli, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

This may be a sign that the dog is hurt, either physically or emotionally. Similar to how humans cry, dogs may howl. If your dog has also altered their behavior, this may also point to something being wrong.

The smart play is to bring them to the vet, where they will be able to diagnose what’s wrong. It could be something physical like a torn ligament or an infection, or it could be something psychological, like anxiety or depression. Either way, it’s best to get this taken care of for their sanity and yours.

6. They’re Announcing They’ve Found Something

In nature, when a wolf or coyote traps their prey, they may howl. This tradition has been trained into some hunting dogs as well. While most family dogs aren’t cornering rabbits or tracking fallen ducks, this instinct may translate when they find something exciting. This could either be a bone, an animal dropping, or a baby bird.

If your dog is not an excessive howler or there is no external stimulation that may trigger a howl, it’s wise to go see what they have found. Normally, it’s benign, but you usually don’t want your dog eating random dead things or feces.

Howling is a common dog behavior and there are many reasons why dogs howl. Sometimes, you can, and should, ignore it and other times, you should pay attention. Knowing your dog and knowing a few reasons why they could be howling can help you tell the difference.