Why Do Dogs Howl?


Why do dogs howl?

Sometimes, the things your dog does make absolutely no sense at all as a human.  Why would they want to play catch all day?  What is so interesting about the mailman?  And, of course, why do dogs howl?  This age old question has been asked by many a dog lover, as sometimes a dog will howl and it won’t make sense at all.  Sometimes they howl for certain things, like sirens, people they know, or other dogs.  Sometimes it seems like dogs howl just to howl.  So why do they do this?  What makes a howl different from a bark, or a lick, or a paw?  Truth be told, we don’t entirely know yet, but what we do know is that a howl is specifically a form of communication for a dog, and they have been howling for a very long time.

Before humans domesticated them, dogs were pack animals, like the modern-day wolf.  As a matter of fact, the domesticated dogs we know today are direct decedents of wolves and still share many of the same traits.  Being a pack animal makes it very important to communicate with one’s pack, and the doggy solution is the howl.  In the wild, packs use a howl for two primary reasons.  Territory control, and guiding members of the pack.  So if your dog howls at another dog, or a police car going by, they are probably either saying, “Hey, what are you doing on my turf!?”  Or, “Hey, what are you guys doing over there, comere’!”  It all depends on the situation and the demeanor of the dog.  This will take some discretion and learning about your dog’s personality to know which is which, although usually a territorial howl is promptly followed by a growl or a defensive stance from the dog, versus a tail wag if they are calling for a meeting.  If your dog howls when you leave, they are most likely trying to get your attention, “Hey!? Why are you leaving pack leader, I am over here!!!”  My dog does this all the time, being a Boarder Collie/Labrador, she is not happy when I leave, and makes sure to let me know in a howling protest.  So I just howl back.

Sometimes, a dog will howl because they are lonely.  Being a technique of communication, a howl is meant to grab attention, for just about anything the dog needs.  If your dog does this, they have learned that howling is an effective way to get your attention.  To get them to stop, counter conditioning will be necessary, and most likely, you will have to solve whatever problem they are trying to alert you to.  It is generally not a good idea to punish your dog for howling, as this is a very base attribute they have, and will be their first option to alert you to danger (you are in, or they are in).  So why do dogs howl?  Well, its because they are trying to tell you something, and you are the pack leader!