Why Do Dogs Howl? - Sad, Happy, or Something Else?

Why Do Dogs Howl? - Sad, Happy, or Something Else?

Howling is an important part of canine vocal communication. It is part of a dog’s genetics and links them back to their wild ancestry. In the wild, wolves will howl to let others in the pack know their location and warn other animals away from the territory. 

Dogs of all breeds and ages will howl for many reasons, this guide will help you understand what your dog is trying to say. 

Types Of Howling 

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  • Howl: Howling is a sustained sound that is doleful and is often associated with wolves and puppies. A howl is usually one prolonged sound - this is what separates howling and baying.

  • Bay: Baying is a sound that scent hounds use to communicate with their humans and pack. Baying is similar to howling but involves multiple tone variations in short bursts. The sound is deep and is distinctly different from barking. Baying is often heard when scent hounds such as bassets, beagles, and foxhounds are tracking. 

  • Bark: Barking is a brief, loud cry. Dogs bark in a wide range of situations and can be an expression of excitement, fear, surprise, irritation, and more. 

  • Whine: Dogs may also whine to express themselves. When dogs whine they have their mouth closed. The vocalisation is often associated with a level of stress or anxiety. 

What Is Your Dog Trying To Tell You? 

When figuring out what your dog is communicating when they are howling, consider the situation and its body language. Below are 5 common reasons dogs howl:

1. Guiding You Home 

If your dog howls when you return home they may be welcoming you back. Wolves and wild dogs will howl to guide pack members back home after a hunt. Your dog may be howling to make sure you return home. 

2. Defending Territory 

If your dog howls when strangers come to the house or when something unfamiliar happens it could be a defence mechanism. Howling is used to let others know the territory is taken and to warn them away. 

Many dogs howl in response to environmental triggers such as emergency service sirens. The howling shows your dog is alert and ready to respond as necessary. It seems certain sounds are more likely to trigger howling than others. Sirens and certain musical instruments are common triggers of howling. 

3. Attention-Seeking 

Some dogs learn that howling is an effective way to get their owner’s attention. If you often respond to your dog’s howls by going to see what they are doing and talking to them they may be taking advantage of this. 

4. Separation Anxiety 

If your dog spends long periods of time alone it may howl to express its separation anxiety. They may be feeling bored, stressed, or lonely. 

Howling due to separation anxiety may be seen alongside other signs of distress including pacing, destructive behaviours, depression, or elimination. 

5. Expressing Pain 

Dogs often howl when they are injured or in pain. The howling is more likely to be frequent and sound shrieking or urgent. If your dog is howling more than usual, a trip to the vet can help rule out injury or illness. 

Breeds Known For Howling 

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Some breeds howl or bay as part of their hunting and scenting work. They may howl to signal they are in pursuit of prey or to let their owners know they have caught something. 

Dog breeds that are known for howling include: 

My Dog Is Howling Excessively - What Should I Do?

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The way to stop your dog from howling will depend on why they are howling: 

How To Stop A Dog Howling For Attention 

If your dog howls at you for attention, food, playtime etc. then it is best to ignore your dog completely when they howl and then reward them when they are quiet. 

Many people unintentionally reinforce the behaviour by looking at and speaking to their dog whenever it makes a noise. This gives the dog attention and essentially rewards the behaviour. 

Instead, ignore your dog completely until they are quiet. Reward quiet behaviour frequently so your dog knows that when they are quiet they will get attention and treats. 

How To Stop A Dog Howling At Sounds

If your dog is howling when they hear certain sounds it is best to identify the triggers and desensitise your dog to those noises. 

If the sound is infrequent then you may find it is enough to simply redirect your dog’s attention onto a toy as this will stop them from howling. However, if the trigger is frequent then it is more effective to desensitise and counter-condition your dog to the sound. 

You do this by exposing your dog to the trigger sounds at a low level while giving high-value treats and playing games. This allows them to create a positive association with the noise rather than a reactive response. Gradually the trigger sound can be increased until it is at real-world levels.

Looking For A Quiet Dog?

Some dogs are more likely to bark and howl than others, our guide on the 10 quietest dog breeds can help you find a less vocal dog to join your family. Already know which breed is best for you? Use Puppies to find your next dog from a reputable breeder.

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