Why Do Dogs Howl?

howling golden retriever


We have all heard our dogs howl and wondered why they are, all of the sudden, channeling their inner wolf. In all reality, while we don’t quite understand it, howling is your dog’s way of communicating outside of barking and shrieking. There are several reasons why your dog may be howling. And while you may find it annoying or worrisome, some of the reasons are very simple:

  • For attention
  • To alert their owner to danger
  • Make contact and acknowledge other dogs
  • Response to high pitched noises or sounds

As harmless as those reasons are, all of your dog’s howls may not be so trivial and could signal a real issue with your dog. The worrisome reasons for your dog to howl:

  • Separation Anxiety: this only occurs when your dog is left at home alone or is separated from you for an extended amount of time. However, the howling is most often paired with another behavior such as pacing, scratching and digging.
  • Medical issues: your dog may be trying to tell you that something is physically wrong with them. If you hear your dog howling more frequently or perhaps in a shrieking manner, you should check your dog for visible injuries.  To endure there is no underlying medical issue, you should take to your vet. 
  • Sounds: There are certain sounds that can trigger howling in your dog, for example many dogs howl when they hear sirens. This kind of howling is generally contingent on when trigger stops and starts. It may be annoying but it is simply your dog being a dog.

Howling is a primal reaction that your dog has. Your dog is communicating with you and other dogs around him. Unless it is incessant or urgent, you have a normal dog that just wants to let you know what is going on.

Dog Comminication 

If you think about the origins of the domestic dog, a single wolf approximately 15,000 years ago, it makes sense that dogs do howl, as do wolves and coyotes. One theory is that the dog that howls for long periods of time is either bored or lonely. Another suggests they are searching for another canine or providing a location to a far away pack member. The howl is considered to be a long distance doggie telephone call since the long drawn-out sound can travel for distances of several miles thus alerting other dogs to their location or needs.

Most often today dogs howl when they hear other sounds that they perceive is a canine calling card such as a siren at a nearby firehouse. Perhaps the more recent sirens just didn't have the right pitch to kick in that ancient instinct to howl in your Poodle like the time in the car. I first observed one of my Norwegian Elkhounds howling because of the siren too. Howling is just another way dogs communicate with each other, just like dogs have different types of barking to communicate multiples needs. There is the "I'm happy to see you" bark, the "stranger in the yard" alert bark, the "I have to go outside to relive myself" bark, and so on.

Types Of Howling 

Besides the howl and the bark, let's not forget the "bay." Beagles often bay, which can be described as a sounding alarm that quarry is near or in sight. Below are three definitions from Merriam-Webster's which really sums up the differences between canine communication nicely:

  • Howl: to utter or emit a loud sustained doleful sound or outcry characteristic of dogs and wolves
  • Bark: of a dog : to emit or utter its characteristic short loud explosive cry
  • Bay: of a dog : to bark (as at a thief or at the game that is pursued) especially with deep prolonged tones 

So whether your dog is howling for friends, barking for fun or baying during the hunt, it's not so important to ask why they are doing it, but rather to listen what your dog is trying to tell you.