- Dogs howl to loud noises like sirens because wolves used howling to communicate with each other.
- Howling can also be a sign that your dog is lonely or is trying to alert you to danger.
- Your dog may also howl to let you know that they want something, like a treat.
Dogs use many different types of vocalization, body stances, and movements, like tail wagging, to send messages to other dogs and humans. Much like barking or growling, howling is a signature vocalization dogs use to communicate.
Dogs howl for a number of different reasons, including to seek attention or to acknowledge other dogs, says Elizabeth Dimit, a dog trainer with Dogtopia, a dog daycare and boarding service.
All dogs are capable of howling, but it is more prominent in certain breeds, like beagles or huskies, Dimit says. Here are five reasons why dogs howl and when you are most likely to hear it.
1. Your dog is reacting to something they hear
Many dogs howl when they become stimulated by high-pitched sounds, like sirens or alarms. Your dog may also howl at music, says Rebecca Greenstein, DVM, chief veterinarian and practice owner at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital.
These responses to loud noises are an ancestral instinct. Wolves use howling to communicate with each other in the wild. By howling, your dog is trying to acknowledge that they hear the sound and are ready to respond.
This type of howling usually starts when the dog hears the trigger sound and stops when the sound does. While it may be annoying, it usually isn’t a cause for concern.
2. Your dog is trying to alert you to danger
Your dog may also howl to indicate something they suspect is a danger to you, “kind of like a dog alarm system,” Dimit says.
You may hear your dog howl at strangers walking near your house, for example. In this instance, your dog is trying to protect its home and howling is its way of signaling to intruders that they aren’t welcome on your dog’s territory.
3. Your dog is acknowledging other dogs
Dogs descended from wolves, and like many other canine behaviors, howling has its ancestral roots in how wolves behave in the wild.
“Howling is primarily meant to communicate with other dogs,” Greenstein says. “Think of wolves or coyotes in the woods howling to their pack. The intensity of a howl is meant to be heard over a longer distance, so the intention is that your dog is making a sort of long-distance announcement to an audience.”
Wolves often howl to announce their location to other members of their pack or to ward off other animals and protect their territory. When your dog howls, it may be trying to do the same.
4. Your dog wants something
Few other sounds demand a human’s attention quite like a howl, and in some cases that may be exactly what your dog is after, Dimit says.
Some dogs use howling as a verbal manipulation tool to get what they want. For example, they may howl if they want treats.
As difficult as it might be, the best way to deal with this type of howling is to avoid eye contact and reward the dog with your attention only once it has become quiet.
5. Your dog has separation anxiety
If your dog has separation anxiety when they are away from you, they may howl as a form of expression.
Since you’re not there, it’s impossible for you to tell if this is happening — unless you video record them when you’re gone or ask your neighbors if they hear howling occasionally.
You can also look for other indicators of separation anxiety, like destroyed items upon your return or frequent accidents in the house when you’re gone.
Other behaviors affiliated with separation anxiety include:
If separation anxiety is an issue for your dog, reach out to your vet to discuss ways you can help your pet feel more comfortable in your absence. Some ways you may help ease your pet’s stress include getting them regular exercise and gently encouraging crate training.
6. Your dog is hurt
If your dog is typically quiet but begins howling, it could be a way to vocalize pain, alert you to an injury, or generally let you know something is physically wrong with them.
If your dog is howling more frequently than usual, especially if it seems urgent or more high-pitched, check your pet for injuries. You should also consider having a vet examining your dog to rule out any underlying medical issues.
What to do about howling
If your dog’s howling feels out of hand or is affecting your quality of life (or your neighbors’), there are some ways you can address it and potentially decrease its frequency including:
Dogs howl for many different reasons, including to get your attention, to communicate with other dogs, to alert you to danger, or in response to a high-pitched sound. If your dog is usually quiet but starts howling, consult your vet to make sure your dog isn’t hurt or sick.