Why do dogs howl?

By Josh Weiss-Roessler

You’ve probably been here before: you’re leading your dog around the neighborhood on a typical pack walk when suddenly there’s a siren way off in the distance. You barely notice it, but your dog’s ears immediately perk up. As it gets closer and closer (and louder and louder), she becomes more and more agitated or excited. Finally, it rounds the corner, headed your way, and as it nears you and passes by, your pooch lets loose with a glorious howl, head thrown back like she was a wolf out in the desert.

What’s going on here? Why do dogs howl? There are a number of reasons. Some that are no big deal, and others that should be addressed.

Ancestry
Think your dog sounds like a howling wolf? That’s probably because dogs are distantly related to wolves, and the urge to howl is still embedded in their genetic code. Sometimes they don’t even know why they’re doing it, just that it’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Howling is totally normal and natural as long as it’s not chronic, pervasive, or invasive.

Communication
In the wild, wolves howl to tell a lost member of their pack where they are or to ward off another animal that’s encroaching on their territory. For domesticated dogs, this may translate to howling at sirens (“Hey, I’m over here!”), howling when a strange dog comes near (“Too close, buddy!”), or both.

Howling like the above two examples should be expected and isn’t anything to worry about as long as it isn’t accompanied by aggression toward other dogs or people. Most dog owners even tend to find it pretty cute. However, there are situations where howling is a symptom of something deeper that needs to be fixed.

Sickness and injury
One of the ways that many dogs express the fact that they are hurt or sick is by howling or vocalizing in other ways. If you notice that your dog is making strange sounds or “talking” more than normal, get them to the vet for a check-up.

Separation anxiety
Remember how wolves howl to find each other in the wild? Well, if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it’s possible that he’ll start doing this every time you leave — not fun for you, the dog, or your neighbors.
How do you know that the howling is being caused by separation anxiety? Because it’s usually accompanied by another symptom, such as destroying things, pacing around, or eliminating inside the house. Howling of this kind will take time and consistent effort to overcome.

Is your dog a howler? Tell us about it in the comments!

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