Why do dogs howl?

German shepherds dogs howling together

Have you asked yourself the question why my dog howling behavior occurs?

Dogs howl for many reasons but basically, bear in mind that dogs are domesticated wolves after living with humans for centuries. That is right. Dogs and wolves are the same species, and wolves are known for howling as a way of communication within their pack.

Howling-triggering situations may include:

  • Guarding their home (territory)
  • Trying to locate a dog “family member” (for example, probably not present because of a visit to the Vet) or a human companion
  • Attracting a dog that may be passing by out in the street
  • Reacting to sounds with a similar pitch to howling (like a siren from a police car or an ambulance … and even garbage trucks). It is pretty common (and funny) to hear a dog howling at sirens from emergency vehicles passing by.
Dog howling at passing by dogs. Dogs tend to engage in howling when other dogs are nearby outside
Dogs howl for several reasons. Why do they howl? Mostly because something is going on outside, usually a dog passing by out in the street or sounds of police cars or ambulance sirens

What does dog howling mean?

Dogs use howling for several reasons, just as wolves do in the wild.

All species of canids (like coyotes, wolves, and dogs) are intensely social and live in groups.

Howling is a long-range mode of communication in dogs. Inherited from wolves, howling is related to territorial advertising (translated to dog language: “I do care about my home and neighborhood”) and group structure (meaning “I talk to my buddies”).

The sound of howling is meant to be heard across long distances in forests (where wolves live and trees would absorb other types of sound waves, except howling sound frequencies). So dogs kept that from the times they lived in those forests.

Dogs hunting in packs on the snow. A stranded wolf might start howling to get a back-howl from his pack and get his way back to them. Dogs are the same species as wolves and kept the howling behavior from their cousin wolves
Dogs hunt in packs. A stranded wolf might start howling to get a back-howl from his pack and get his way back to them. Dogs (being the same species as wolves) retained the howling vocalization of wolves. Image by Eva Blue from Unsplash.

Barking and other dog vocalization. Dog vocalization types such as barks, yips, and growls are meant for shorter-range communication. Barking is more directed to communicate with humans nowadays, and also with dogs at closer distances, like other dog pals living at home or passing by dogs or cats outside.
Barking is the preferred sound signal in dogs, mainly to communicate with humans, while wolves use more howling and rarely bark. The more a dog is tame, the more they will bark (and not howl).
Scientists think canids (including dogs and wolves) can identify who in the pack or group is producing the howling sound.

Why do dogs howl at night?

A dog howling at night is a common source of complaints in neighborhoods.

Dogs tend to howl during the night because of their sleeping patterns.

Adult dogs sleep about 10 hours per day. Of those 10 hours, dogs will use 6 hours at night and 4 to sleep during the day. Considering 12 hours of darkness, dogs will be awake for about half of this period. Therefore, it is likely they feel lonely and howl.

A dog may howl more frequently at night. A white-colored dog is alert to events and might start  howling anytime
Dogs howl at night because they are awake a big part of the night, and during that time, they have full awareness of events going on that may serve to better guard their territory (your home).

Also, dogs may perceive stimuli in a very distinct way during the nighttime without the background “noise” of the day (for instance, clearly perceiving cats, nocturnal animals, ambulances, a shiny full moon, etc.).

In any case, a dog howling at night sometimes calls the attention of other dogs who also happen to be awake in the neighborhood and start howling too. This is the so-called chorus howling or  “cry concert,” in which several dogs living together or nearby start howling together, usually during, but not exclusively at night.

Why is my dog howling in his sleep?

Dogs often howl when they’re dreaming, which is called “dream howling” (or sometimes they may even “dream bark”).

Dogs often howl when they're dreaming, which is called "dream howling"

Your dog might be dreaming or waking up after a dream. During the sleeping period (which includes dreaming), a dog’s brain reorganizes the day’s experiences and reinforces learning.

Dogs have strong instincts from the times they used to be wolves. So, like wolves, they might be re-experiencing howling-deserving situations that they encountered during the day while sleeping, that is, memories of daily howling-triggering problems that may resurface while sleeping.

This behavior is typical for most dogs and usually doesn’t cause any problems. But if your dog starts howling frequently or excessively, you should definitely talk to your Vet.

What are the dog breeds that howl?

All dogs could “technically” howl. Some breeds have been categorized as howlers, such as Beagles, Siberian Huskies, and Bloodhounds. However, dogs not belonging to typical howler breeds may occasionally howl (like German Shepherds dogs and Akitas).

How to stop a dog howling a lot?

First, find the reason why your dog is howling too much. Howling is one of several vocalizations sounds dogs do when under separation anxiety.

Dogs cannot erase their ancestral memory of being the same species as wolves. Scientists have already observed a situation where a wolf gets separated from the pack and lost to start howling during hunting campaigns immediately. This behavior was called “separation cry” and is elicited to obtain a response or signal from the rest of the hunting pack and be back on track to meet them. Similarly, dogs may howl when separated from their owner (like during work hours), mainly when they feel lonely and develop separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a behavioral problem and should be looked at by a Veterinarian or behavior specialist.

In any case, when howling is moderate and is not related to separation anxiety, you can train your dog not to howl. Ideally, this training should be done through positive reinforcement, such as giving treats when they are not howling and ignoring them when they do.

It is common to see a dog howling and barking intermittently, which means your dog may be nervous about some external event happening.

How to stop dog howling when left alone?

Try to keep your dog entertained. Kong toy (or similar) or a dog licking mat with peanut butter may distract your dog for long periods after you leave for work.
Alternatively, teach your dog treasure hunt games they can play after you leave.
All of these are elements of dog enrichment.
If your dog feels inspired and prefers the nighttime for howling, you can try giving them some CBD drops to calm them down (ask your veterinarian about proper doses).

Final remarks

Howling is a very doggish behavior, nothing to worry about in a normal dog. However, pay attention if howling engaging becomes more frequent. In that case, talk to your veterinarian or animal behaviorist on the next visit or session.

If you would like to know more about dog’s main vocalization sound: Barking click here

Bonus from this article: listen to a dog howling sound:

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