Just like other forms of dog vocalization, howling is a form of communication. It is a trait that is most useful in the wild and among wild canines, so why do domesticated dogs still howl? There are harmless reasons, and then there are reasons that should be cause for worry. Let’s explore each one.
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Ooouch! My Ears Huuurt!
One of the most common reasons a canine will howl is in response to the sirens of emergency response vehicles. Dogs all over the neighborhood will howl together as fire engines, police cars, and ambulances sing their arrival, sometimes miles away. The problem lies in dog guardians who don’t realize their pups are howling in pain. It turns out that dogs howl at sirens because the sonic cadence is painful for dogs. Instead of yelling at Fido to quiet down, dog guardians can bring Fido inside where it may be quieter, console Fido that it will be over soon, or let him do what he needs to do until the painful noise passes. Sometimes kiddos need to whine and whimper a bit when they get a scraped knee. The same goes for fur-kids when their sensitive ears are being bombarded with high-pitched sirens. Keep in mind, the same goes for dog whistles. If you can’t hear a siren but several dogs in the neighborhood seem to be howling and barking - it could be a kid playing around with a dog whistle without realizing he or she is actually causing severe auditory pain for Fidos everywhere.
In the wild, canines live in packs. When some members leave to hunt for food, those left behind to guard their den and pups howl to help the scouting party find their way back. Our domesticated canine buddy may tap into a deep, primal urge to howl for the same reason. They may just howl while we are away for a prolonged period as their way of telling us to come hoooome! Keep in mind that separation anxiety is also very real for many puppers. If they howl when we leave, it could be a deep need to communicate with you from afar, so you come home, but it could also mean he’s having a hard time spending time alone. Luckily, there are activities, lifestyle choices, and resources to help dogs cope with alone time.
You can make sure:
- they are getting enough exercise,
- invest in doggy daycare one-to-three days per week,
- keep a consistent and reliable schedule,
- ensure he is surrounded by toys and blankets he finds comforting,
- put in a dog door so he can be in charge of his own comfort by choosing to be inside or outside, and
- maybe have a dog sitter or neighbor visit with him mid-day, so keep his anxiety and loneliness to a minimum.
Wild dogs of any breed will howl in a chorus to protect their territory - to warn other packs to stay away. The same may be true for our canine companions when other humans - strangers or otherwise - or other animals come near our home. Dogs are a wonderful warning system. Fido may howl to tell them to stay awaaay! For those who don’t need an announcement every time the mail carrier is on their street, try rewarding your furry pal instead of yelling. Yelling or a stern, “no!” can often confuse Fido, making him become more fervent and insistent that you listen. Instead, spend a few weeks telling your canine companion, “yes, thank you” while going with them to the front door or window to investigate. Then let them know in a reassuring, but firm tone, “it’s okay, all gone” or teach him the word “friend” to help him understand that sound and person is considered okay. After a few weeks, he’ll either quiet down completely, or your fur-baby will quickly quiet down after being reminded that it’s a “friend,” even without the need for you to get up and investigate. One of the best side-effects of this form of training is that if a dog is more persistent than usual, you’ll know it really is worth checking out because the two of you have established communication about intruders versus normal pedestrian traffic.
“I caught somethiiing!”
Domesticated hunting breeds, or wild dogs, may howl in triumph when they corner a hapless animal - such as an opossum or squirrel - or when they discovered the carcass of one. They may not be like cats and leave it on your pillow, but they will want to share their special discovery or fresh kill with you. In fact, some dogs will leave a fresh kill in the doorway or at your feet. Just remember that this is a proud moment for Fido, who loves you and wants to share their achievements. Correct them by speaking calmly as you bring the animal back outside. Once the animal has been placed wherever it needs to be, whether it’s being left where it can get away, or placed in the trash, reward Fido with your happiest voice once the animal is in the right place.
Dogs in the wild howl when they get injured or are in pain. If our pooch starts howling for no apparent reason, in a shrieking manner, or with more frequency, we should immediately check if he’s hurt. Taking him to his vet right away is also a good idea.
Remember that howling isn’t a normal behavior where dogs are just being dogs. It’s one of the ways dogs try to communicate with each other and with their humans. Cultivate your listening skills, address your dog’s concerns, and create a lifestyle that gives your dog the freedom to be a dog, while teaching him how to live in human spaces. Both of you will have a better relationship.