No matter where you live, you’ve almost certainly had the experience of being on the stairs or porch late at night and hearing the unmistakable sound of dogs howling in the distance. Why do dogs howl?
Researchers believe that dog howling is related to canine genetics. The ancient dog breeds are known for how closely their DNA matches that of the wolves from which they are descended. In answering the question “Why do dogs howl?” We must also examine the following questions: Is the dog howling an atavistic expression of a common wild ancestry? A lingering holdover from wolf times and pack activity? Communication seems to be at the center of things. So let’s try to answer the question, “Why do dogs howl?” And see what they might be saying.
1. The howling of dogs is a beacon that organizes and locates the community
In the wild, wolves and feral dogs howl to bring boy scouts back to the pack after a hunt. Dogs that lag behind will howl to indicate the location of their base. The dog’s howl acts as a vocal beacon or a kind of acoustic beacon that guides other pack members back.
Dog howling can be a similar expression, especially if you’ve been away from home all day. Dogs howl to lure loved ones home.
2. The howling of the dog is a border demarcation and defense mechanism
The howl signals to other dogs that the area they are entering has been claimed and occupied. It is a warning to outsiders that interference carries the risk of violence. Howling dogs announce their presence and alert their community of changing circumstances. In this context, the dog’s howl acts as a defense mechanism, warding off potential predators and ensuring the safety of the dogs in the pack.
In a home setting, some dogs bark and others howl when a stranger comes to the door or a new car pulls up in the driveway.
3. Dogs howl to attract attention or express fear
A howling dog may just want attention. Some dog owners know that dogs can be just as emotionally manipulative as any human. A dog’s howl attracts the attention of its owner. You might run around the house to see what’s going on and then be greeted by a dog ready to be played with. Go through this routine often enough and the dog will learn that howling is an effective way to get you up and running.
Of course, this coin has two sides. When your dog knows you are going for long periods of time, they may howl as an expression of separation anxiety. Dogs that don’t have toys or enough things to keep them entertained in your absence will become sad, lonely, and depressed. So the sad answer to “Why do dogs howl?” your dog may be crying in protest at being left alone. Imagine if someone put you in a box all day or left you in another place for an extended period of time. You would cry too!
4. Dogs howl in response to stimuli and attachment exercises
Dog howling can be a response to environmental triggers. Frequent provocations are sirens from ambulances, police or fire engines. The sound of these noises was the only time my dog ever howled. The distant sound of approaching sirens always made her sit up and join the whining. The reason remains uncertain as she never howled when other dogs howled. Perhaps the pitch of the sirens awakened an otherwise dormant genetic memory.
Much of our research confirms that dogs howl occurs when certain sounds are heard. The prompts and triggers can be anything: music on a stereo at a party, popular television themed songs, or the sound of musical instruments. People who like to howl dogs even seem to encourage their dogs by howling themselves! It seems that one reason dogs howl is because of the experience of community or bonding. Why do dogs howl at sirens? Why do dogs howl when they howl? Maybe it is to get involved and be part of the action.
5. Dogs howl to alert you of injury or discovery
Another answer to “Why do dogs howl?” could be dogs howling to indicate injury. People cry when they are hurt; Dogs howl in similar situations. Dogs howl to show pain. Some dogs are also trained to howl when they make discoveries. Hound breeds howl to signal the pursuit or capture of prey. When a dog has bred, cornered, or trapped something, it can howl to alert its owners to the location of the prize.
Does your dog like to howl or “sing”?
Some dog breeds certainly tend to howl more than others. Breeds known for howling include Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimo Dogs, Beagles, Coonhounds (Black and Tan, Bluetick, Redtick, English, Redbone, and Treeing Walker), Dachshunds, Foxhounds (American and English), Hounds (Bloodhound, Basset), Huskies (Alaskan and Siberian), Native American dogs, and Tamaskan dogs, among others.
Some final thoughts on the question, “Why do dogs howl?”
One thing to consider is that the dog’s howl, like any other form of voice expression, has no set meaning. The answer to “Why do dogs howl?” is a changing signifier, the interpretation of which depends on the situation. I like to go karaoke; Is it so hard to imagine a dog howling out of necessity, but out of joy?
Tell us: Is your dog a howler? When and how do your dogs get the urge to sing? Why do your dogs howl? Share your experience with howling the dog in the comments! Let us know the breed or mix if you can.
Thumbnail: Photography © srugina | Thinkstock.
This piece was originally released in 2015.