Why Do Dogs Howl?

Whether with a bark or through body language, dogs are exceptional at communicating with people, considering they cannot speak. But one way they vocalize is a little less understood, with a howl a little trickier to interpret.

While the most famous howling canine is the wolf, this is an innate behavior seen in all species of dog. Why do dogs howl? Canine experts explain this behavior and how to discourage excessive noise.

Why Is My Dog Howling?

Dr. Mary Burch, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and American Kennel Club Family Dog Director, describes howling as "a form of communication for dogs that is hard-wired."

VCA Animal Hospitals agrees, telling Newsweek: "Like many canine behaviors, howling has ancestral roots.

"In the wild, safety-conscious wolves in the woods bellowed to announce their location to other members of their pack family.

"Brave wolves howled to warn other wild animals to stay away from their territory. Your dog may not howl to pinpoint their whereabouts or keep intruders at bay, but now, as in generations past, dogs howl as a form of communication."

As dogs are now part of human families instead of packs, it is vital to understand what your pet is trying to say when they howl, so you can respond correctly.

Beagle howling
A Beagle howling. Dogs make a variety of sounds to express different desires, needs and feelings. LivingThroughTheLens/Getty Images

What Does a Dog Howling Mean?

Experts believe even a modern-day domesticated dog can use howling to broadcast a wide range of basic messages.

"I'm Over Here! Come This Way"

In the wild, part of the canine pack remains home while other members scout the area for food and VCA veterinarians believe howling was developed to "help members of the pack find each other."

They told Newsweek: "Dogs that remain behind vocalize to signal the location of home base and guide scouting members back to safety.

"After being left home alone, a dog may howl when they hear you drive up to your house or when they spot you climbing the steps in an attempt to guide you safely back to them."

"Stay Away From Here"

Some dogs howl to keep intruders outside their territory, with the VCA stating: "Howling signals to incoming dogs that a particular area is already claimed, and visitors aren't welcome.

"Howling is a good defense mechanism that wards off potential predators. As dogs protect their homes, they may howl when a visitor approaches their territory."

Finnish Lapphund on sitting on a frozen
A dog's howl, similar to a wolf's, is a loud, drawn-out, mournful cry. Eerik/Getty Images

"Here I Am"

Adding to the confusion, an approaching dog may howl to simply alert residing dogs that they are coming.

The VCA said: "This vocal announcement prevents an incoming dog from startling current inhabitants of an area.

"Howling alerts surrounding dogs that their environment is about to change."

"I Want Some Attention"

Some dogs howl just to communicate their need for attention, with the loud and mournful noise often more than capable of attracting the notice of an owner.

The VCA said: "This verbal canine manipulation can become bothersome, so humans must learn not to reward vocal demands.

"Try to avoid eye contact and resist the urge to approach a howling dog. Don't pet him or talk to him but don't scold him either.

"Some dogs, like some children, will do anything for attention, even negative attention, so reprimanding your dog may make the situation worse."

"I'm Hurt"

However, in certain situations, some howls should not be ignored.

The VCA said: "If your normally quiet dog begins howling, he may be injured. People cry when they are hurt, and dogs do too.

"Dogs will howl to vocalize pain. Bring your dog to your veterinarian to rule out illness or injury."

"Look What I Found"

Howling can also be a cheer. Dogs in the wild howl when they corner prey and domestic hunting dogs are often trained to mimic their ancestors.

The VCA said: "Your dog may not be a hunter, but he may get excited when he finds a new treasure in his backyard.

"Whatever the prize, howling lets you know your dog is proud of a new discovery."

Which Dog Breeds Howl the Most?

Pet rehoming site experts Pets4Homes suggests some dog breeds are far more vocal than others.

They told Newsweek: "Pack dogs such as huskies and malamutes like to bark and howl as a way to 'talk' to each other.

"Smaller dogs, like chihuahuas and Pomeranians, are conscious of their below-average stature and are often hypersensitive to threats, which makes them more likely to bark at perceived dangers.

"Working breeds such as beagles and bloodhounds can also be very talkative, having been bred to communicate with their owners."

Two Siberian huskies raise their faces to
While howling is common among all dogs, some breeds are more likely to howl than others. Автор/Getty Images

Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?

Adem Fehmi, Dog Behaviorist for natural pet food brand, Barking Heads, suggests dog howling can be a response to environmental triggers.

Common provocations include ambulance, police or fire-engine sirens, with anecdotal evidence indicating these sounds alone can result in a dog howling.

He told Newsweek: "This is similar to dogs howling at music. One school of thought is that the siren or music replicates similar pitches and sounds to a howl and so, when heard, some dogs look to respond by howling in return.

"Not all dogs will possess this instinct, with some being more vocal than others."

Alyssa Ralph, a pet behaviorist at Your Dog's Club, agrees, adding: "Some sirens not only share a similar frequency with that of dog howls, but they also mirror the sharp drop in frequency that happens at the end of a dog's howl—especially if they're passing by, thanks to the Doppler Effect.

"If your dog is howling at sirens, they just think they're having a conversation."

A white dog howling and barking in
Dogs can howl in response to passing sirens, a musical instrument, a sound on the TV or even singing. Capuski/Getty Images

How to Stop a Dog Howling When Left Alone

However, sirens are not solely responsible for causing a dog to howl and your dog is much more likely to emit this doleful sound when left alone if they feel stressed, anxious or agitated at being left.

Adem Fehmi said: "We often refer to this as a dog experiencing 'separation anxiety' and there are sometimes other signs present that indicate that they are feeling anxious about being left alone."

"If your dog is experiencing separation anxiety, it is recommended that you seek advice from an accredited behaviorist so that they can tailor the training to your individual dog and home routines."

Fortunately, Fehmi has devised three tips to prevent and overcome separation anxiety

Exercise the Dogs Before Leaving Them

This is thought to be beneficial for all dogs, particularly if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety.

Fehmi said: "Effectively exercising your dog will help to drain some of your dog's energy, energy that they might otherwise put into worrying about being left.

"A well-exercised dog is also more likely to settle and rest in your absence than one who is raring to go."

Give the Dog Something to Do

Just like us humans, dogs can and will get bored when left alone with nothing to do.

Fehmi said: "By offering your dog something to do in your absence, you can provide mental stimulation and outlet for your dog, helping to keep boredom and anxiety at bay.

"A food-dispensing toy is perfect for this activity. Start by making the food easy to remove and, as your dog's interest builds and they become more expert at reaching the food, you can up the challenge.

"For the expert 'gamer', you can even freeze some moist food in some types of rubber food dispensing toys to ensure they last a little longer."

Create a Calm Environment for the Dog

Fehmi believes playing classical or soft music can help your dog to relax.

"A nice comfortable and inviting bed can also help your dog to relax in your absence."

woman relaxing in living room with a
Discouraging dogs from howling is achieved is through a behavior-conditioning technique called desensitization and counter-conditioning. MilicaStankovic/Getty Images