Why Do Dogs Howl?

As most dog owners know, howling can be a source of mystery and a source of aggravation—sometimes even both at once.

While canine experts are still trying to learn more about the role howling plays in the daily lives of dogs, there’s plenty of evidence to oppose the notion that it’s merely senseless noise. There are times when it appears as though dogs are howling for unknown reasons, but there are other times when the howling is a direct response to nearby sounds or movement.

Science may not be able to explain all there is to know about howling at this time, but the following theories offer some of the best potential explanations for the behavior.


Wolf Heritage

Because wolves (Canis lupus) and dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) descended from a common ancestor, they share a number of common traits with each other.

For example, wolves and dogs are omnivores, which means that they both eat plants and animals. However, dogs tend to eat higher percentages of vegetables and grains.

In the same way, dogs and wolves are both known to howl alone and in groups. Wolves tend to howl as a way of communicating with or locating other wolves, but dogs don’t always seem to howl for such practical reasons.

Still, regardless of why they do it, there’s no doubt that dogs are still howling today because of the genetic heritage they share with wolves.


Medical Issues

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of swinging a hammer onto your thumb instead of a nail, you’re probably well-acquainted with the concept of howling in pain.

Well, when dogs are feeling discomfort, they will often do the same. If your dog is bellowing with increased frequency in a way that seems out of character and unnatural, it may be time to plan a trip to the vet.

Although howling is not always indicative of a health issue, in some cases it can be exactly that, so it’s best to have a trained professional rule out the possibility of illness or injury. That way, you can at least have the peace of mind that comes from knowing it’s just a slightly annoying behavior, not a symptom.


Some dogs are prized for their ability to keep homes safe by alerting their families to potential intruders.

Just as wolves may use their howling to alert the pack to a potential threat, a good watchdog will let his family know when something is amiss. Not all dogs have a knack for differentiating friend from foe, nor can they all separate a harmless noise from a legitimate cause for concern, but since you are part of the same family, they want you to know what they know as soon as they know it.


Social Creatures

Let’s face it: in a lot of ways, dogs are like us.

In fact, it’s probably why we’ve shared such a great relationship for thousands of years. We’re social creatures, and so are they. We like communicating with other people, and they like communicating with other dogs.

This is why they can often be heard howling out to each other, back and forth, at all hours of the night—when they hear the howls of dogs nearby, they feel compelled to join in.

But they don’t just enjoy getting attention from other dogs: they also love to get the attention of their humans.

While this is often a good thing for owners, sometimes dogs aren’t very concerned about whether the attention is positive or negative, as long as it’s attention. If your dog notices that his howling gets a reaction out of you, it may encourage the behavior.

The howls of a puppy may seem cute at first, but when that puppy becomes a fully grown dog, the behavior won’t be quite so adorable.

If you feel that your dog (or puppy) is howling just to get your attention, it’s best to discourage the behavior by ignoring it as much as possible. If you can consistently withhold your attention when he howls, you will take away your dog’s motivation to engage in the unwanted behavior.

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