A dog howling can be a very haunting sound. It makes us think of the wilderness and the wolves from which our dogs descend. However, what does it mean when a dog howls? Understanding why dogs howl is important to diagnose potentially serious medical reasons or if you would prefer they use their vocal cords a bit less.
Why is My Dog Howling?
To Get Your Attention
A dog’s howling may be a plea for the attention of pet parents. If quiet behavior isn't getting the results they want, a dog may howl in order to attract attention, even if all they get is negative attention.
A dog that does not get sufficient quality time with their owners or who spends many hours alone in the yard may be particularly likely to howl. If your dog howls when they have been left alone for a while, their goal may be to get your attention.
Dogs may also howl to get you to pay attention to a possible threat. If your dog hears potential predators or a strange noise, they may howl to alert their human families to the danger.
Dogs can make a wide range of sounds when they are suffering from separation anxiety. A howling dog could well be reacting to their anxiety.
You can often tell that your dog feels anxious when you're gone because of other signs, like being destructive, pacing, inappropriate elimination in an otherwise potty-trained dog, and more. Sometimes, a dog may howl out of separation anxiety without other signs.
Pain or Illness
Often, dogs howl and make high-pitched sounds in order to vocalize pain. Your dog may be trying to tell you that they are suffering.
If your dog’s howling has just begun when you know that they have a new illness or injury, medical causes are likely to blame. Even if you don't know about a medical issue, if your dog has suddenly started howling without any other indication of why, a trip to the vet is definitely in order.
If your dog starts howling when they hear certain sounds, like other dogs howling or a nearby siren, it may be that your dog is responding to the sound waves that they hear. Many dogs howl in response to a sound, particularly a mournful cry from another dog. This is part of how dogs communicate with other dogs in the area. Dogs may also howl in response to a member of your family crying.
Some dog breeds howl more than others. Northern breeds like huskies and malamutes who are more closely related to wolves may be more likely to howl than other dog breeds. This type of howling is often seen in dogs that seem otherwise content.
They may start howling when they hear other dogs howl and stop howling when the howling stops or they may just seem to enjoy using their voices as musical instruments. These dogs are very likely to howl when other pack members are howling, but they may also just seem to howl for the sheer pleasure of it.
Common Treatments to Stop Dog Howling
Determine Dog Howl Meaning
Understanding why dogs howl and the particular reasons for your dog’s howl is the first step to reducing the behavior. A dog that howls because it is hurt will require very different treatment than a dog that is seeking attention. The first step is to have your veterinarian rule out physical causes for your dog’s howling.
Once you know that there's nothing physically wrong, consider the other reasons that dogs howl and try to determine which applies to your dog.
Does your dog howl only when they are alone?
Serious separation anxiety may require the treatment of a certified professional dog trainer or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. On the other hand, a dog that is just getting lonely may howl less or not at all if you spend time with them every day.
Is your dog’s howling in response to something?
Pay attention to when your dog howls. Is there an emergency vehicle nearby? Are other animals making noises? If the sound stops when sirens or other noises stop, your dog may be responding to sounds.
In this case, your dog is likely to respond if you reward quiet behavior. As soon as you hear sirens or another trigger, give your dog a command like “quiet” and immediately give them a reward before they make a noise. Continue rewarding them as long as they are quiet. In time, your dog will learn that silence gets results.
Understanding Howling Dog Meaning and Reducing Howling
Understanding why dogs howl is the first step to reducing the behavior. Whether your dog tends to howl at sirens or your dog howls when they are alone or for no reason at all, reacting appropriately to the howling can reduce its frequency.
My experience as the liaison of integrative medicine, neurology, and zoo medicine at UF Small Animal Hospital gave me valuable insight into the challenges faced by pet owners with animals who have medical conditions. My time there also gave me the opportunity to care for a disabled dog and write a book about the experience.
As manager of a dog daycare, I learned about how dogs play and interact, warning signs for aggression, and how to rehabilitate dog-reactive dogs. During my time there I was under the mentorship of two groomers, from whom I learned grooming essentials.
I currently work with high-risk shelter dogs and manage a blog to help other volunteers and foster families. I have two dogs of my own, a Maltese and a Standard Poodle.