Why Do Dogs Howl?

October 6, 2009

By Linda Cole

It’s hard to miss the neighborhood dog choir howling their mournful tune as a fire truck or ambulance whizzes by. Dogs raise their heads in a howl to signal when we leave the house and when we return. One begins to howl and is soon followed by other voices in the area, but why do dogs howl? Are they really that sad when we leave and that ecstatic when we return?

Researchers understand why wolves howl. Their howls, in various tones, help the sound travel farther than a simple bark would go. We know wolves howl as a signal to the pack, “Come see what I found” or to let other members of the pack know where they are so they can meet in a single location. Wolves recognize each pack member’s howl and if an unfamiliar voice joins in, the pack leader knows an intruder may be in his territory. So a howl is also a warning to outsiders to stay away or else. It’s also a way to account for each member of the pack when they are separated by the hunt or for any other reason. Each wolf joins in signaling they are present and accounted for, and everything is OK.

It’s believed dogs howl for similar reasons, although their ancestral instincts no longer guide them and the reason for their howl is not as clear to researchers. Dogs communicate with growls, whines and howls. Their verbal language tells us how they are feeling in certain situations. If a dog howls when his owner leaves the house, it can mean he is calling his pack leader back. It can also mean he is bored out of his mind and doesn’t know what else to do. A dog who spends his day chained to a post in the middle of the backyard or locked in a house all day may need a brisk walk before you leave for work to help him relieve built up energy. You can help ease his boredom with appropriate chew toys that can keep him simulated with something to do while you are away.

People believe dogs howl when they hear sirens because it hurts their ears, butDog Animated - no offer this is not true. My neighbor has four Yellow Labs who spend their day outside. They are the first in the neighborhood to hear sirens. Soon, the air is filled with all the other dogs in the neighborhood, including mine, howling in unison. Dogs howl at sirens because of their instinctive link to wolves. To a dog, that sound is coming from another dog off in the distance howling and he is just being polite by answering the other dog’s call. High pitched sounds on your TV or from a musical instrument can also produce a howl from your dog. I like to play a harmonica, but learned a long time ago not to blow into it around my dogs. I was mobbed as they tried to figure out where that sound was coming from and where the other dog was at. Come to think about it, my cats also wondered what was going on with that silver thing with the odd sounds coming out. I didn’t think my playing was that bad.

Dogs also howl when they are lonely. He instinctively knows howling can tell him where another dog is at. Because dogs are social animals and used to being in a pack, one dog may howl to locate dogs within howling distance so he doesn’t feel so alone. Not all dogs howl and some will howl more than others. Constant howling can indicate a dog who has separation anxiety from his owner. If your neighbors complain that your dog howls whenever you are gone, you may need to consider adding more exercise to his routine, toys to help give him stimulation or even adding another dog to your pack. Sometimes your pet needs a pet to keep him company when the boss is not at home. However, bringing another pet into your home is not always a good solution for a dog who misses his owner.

Dogs howl for a variety of reasons. That mournful sound we hear is not sadness. To our dogs it is simply their way of communicating over large distances. It’s a foggy memory of a way that was once used to bring the pack together. Although wolves and coyotes still use a howl in the matter nature intended, dogs howl because domestication has left them bored or lonely, and in some cases lacking in exercise. I like listening to dogs howling in unison because they seem to enjoy it. It’s sort of like a group sing along. As long as it’s not four in the morning.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. gina says:

    what can i do my dog has smelt something over our park and now everyday he is howling and going off his food i need help to find out if its ok and if it is a bitch what can i do please

    1. Charlotte says:

      He may of smelt a she on heat and is pining after her.

  2. destiny says:

    well I have a pitbull and he always howls whenever an ice cream truck passes by and it’s so weird and he does it every time and only when an ice cream truck passes by and I do not know why but I would like to.

  3. PrettyPaw! says:

    I have 3 dogs and when one of my dogs howl, my other two just joins up. And, I don’t mind but i want to know why they join up? And they all like to howl I say it’s cute because I don’t mind when they do it :* Anyways. I just want to know why they do it!!

  4. KeikoasMom says:

    I have read that dogs also howl when they are sick. You should have taken your dog to a vet instead of chaining her up. I don't understand chaining a dog up or keeping them in a dog run, but that is just me.
    I would certainly be concerned about her not eating
    and not drinking.

  5. Our dog sometimes howls, like when she hears sirens(strangely she doesn't much anymore, as if she's used to them), or when she's lonely. But last night she started howling so sadly my mom and I jumped out of bed to see what could be wrong. She sounded like she was abandoned by all the ones she loved. Also she hasn't been eating much and when I took her on a walk today she couldn't even keep up with me on the last block. When we got home I chained her up again and led her to her water and she wouldn't drink; she just laid down.

  6. My step mom likes to bird watch and we have some barn owls in our neighborhood, one that is consistently in our backyard. Everytime one of us blows the owl call, my dad's mini schnauzer goes crazy howling. Its so hilarious.

  7. I bearly got this dog she looks like a husky, and she seems very sweet but she began howling I diddnt know how to get her to stop so I just began to pet her and kinda talk to her a little and she followed me around the house while I was tring to clean, finally I sat down and she sat down infront of me & fell asleep.

  8. Every time I come home my pug will jump for joy howling and I will give him every compliment in the world very exciting ly he will go insane howling. I love my sweet puggy poo.

  9. nyala says:

    My dog howls every single time an African horn bill sings its song nearby. It’s a high pitched whistling sound, somewhat melancholic. My dog howls every time, without fail. I’ve even recorded it with my camera and when I play it back to him and he hears the bird’s song on the recording, he also howls. Even at 2am in the morning, when it’s dead quiet, he’ll howl when I play the recording back to him.

  10. carlos ortiz says:

    My doberman howls whenever she hears sirens, I think she thinks its another dog in the distance, so shes just saying ‘whats up’ lol

  11. Anonymous says:

    My dogs sister and him had been together for 2 years in a huge front fence …. She died yesterday and wont stop howling ):

  12. If i bark or howl at at dog she does the same,like we are having a conversation.Im just not sure what about.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Our Husky/Shepard mix will howl one time in the middle of the night while he is inside the house and in his bed. Our lab ignores him and the neighbor dogs are not howling at the time. We live in a very rural area. Is he “talking” to coyotes? Sometimes, it scares the doo-doo out of me!

  14. Anonymous says:

    A dog next door is howling right now and i wonder why it keeps doing every so often it would howl and other dogs would join in. But now that its 12:36am its midnight its kinda creepy haha but now i think the dog misses its owner,thanks to this info. I now feel sorry for the dog. But i also want my sleep haha

  15. Anonymous says:

    my dog howls when I leave the house.

  16. Anonymous says:

    My dog howls when my daughter cries

  17. Anonymous says:

    My dog howls to the jeopardy song without fail. Glad to hear he is not sad!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Our dog howls when we ask him about a person or a dog. If we ask him a few times in a row “Where’s Rich” (my father-in-law) he’ll start howling.

  19. Anonymous says:

    My dog howls when the Big Wheel goes around on the Price is Right.

  20. Anonymous says:

    My dog is ten years old. He would howl once in a while when he was outside with my other dog. Our other dog died last year. Just about a month ago he started to howl on a daily basis. But mostly when we are at home at night. He seems to be fine health wise. I am confused. Can anyone help or have any ideas?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Mine is doing the same ):

    2. The night my elderly neighbor died his dog wouldn’t stop howling the whole night until the morning 🙁 they grieve like most of us do.

  21. We have 3 dogs and we howl with them almost every day and they seem to love it. Lots of fun.

  22. Anonymous says:

    My Dog howls when in the Summer the Ice cream Van passes the House and plays his tune..or when somebody playes with the Ringtones on their telephone.

  23. Anonymous says:

    My Dane howls when opera is played. The soprano harmones get him started. His tail is waging the whole time.