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Why do dogs howl? It’s not just to get your attention

From massive Great Pyrenees to tiny Chihuahuas, dogs share a common ancestor: the gray wolf. While most dogs today look nothing like their ancestors, some instinctive traits, such as resource guarding and howling, remain. In Hollywood films, howling canines symbolize the untold horrors our onscreen heroes are about to face. In fact, the association between howling canines and unfortunate circumstances dates back to Ancient Egypt.

Anubis, the god of death, mummification, and the afterlife, is depicted as having the head of a dog. Ancient Egyptians believed that dogs howled to summon Anubis to collect a soul. Even now, the sound of a dog’s howl can send shivers down your spine. But why do dogs howl? Let’s find out. 

Brown and white dog howling on a porch.

Howling as a form of communication

As entertaining as it is to watch a Miniature Poodle throw his head back and howl at the top of his little lungs, your pup may not be howling just to get your attention. Apart from more typical barking and yapping, howling offers your dog another method of communicating. For the most part, howling is normal for dogs, regardless of the breed. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), “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.”

Reasons your dog is howling

Aside from a bid for your attention, dogs may sing the song of their species for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common reasons your dog howls.

Your dog is excited

If your dog suddenly begins to howl while he’s digging in the backyard, it could be his way of announcing he’s found something exciting. Whether he’s discovered a mole’s den or he’s unearthed a bone he buried months ago, your pooch could be howling because he’s proud of himself for unearthing buried treasure. 

Your dog is letting you know where he is

Dogs, like wolves, are pack animals. Sometimes howling is your pup’s way of letting you know where he is at all times. In the wild, howling is often used like a homing beacon that guides the pack from one location to another. Your dog may also howl when he hears your car pull in the driveway to lead you safely back inside the house. 

Your dog hears something

It’s not uncommon for dogs to howl in response to sirens and other high-pitched noises. Sometimes even music or the television can be enough to set your dog off on a howling frenzy. Fortunately, this particular howling response shouldn’t be problematic unless it recurs. In most cases, your precocious pup will quiet down once the noise stops.

Your dog has separation anxiety

If your pup suffers from separation anxiety, he probably displays more symptoms than howling. Additional signs your dog may have separation anxiety include destructive behavior, urination and defecation in the home, pacing, and excessive panting. 

Your dog is in pain

Because dogs can’t use words to tell us when something hurts, they have to rely on other forms of communication. Howling and whining could indicate that your dog is suffering from a medical condition that requires prompt treatment. If your dog exhibits additional signs he’s in pain, such as panting, acting aggressively, limping, loss of appetite, or other changes in behavior, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. 

A brown Labrador retriever howling.

How to stop your dog from howling

If your dog indulges his inner wolf only on rare occasions, you probably won’t be too bothered by the occasional howl. But if your pup has a penchant for howling on a daily basis, it’s time to curb his vocalizations before the neighbors start to complain. Here are a few ways you can help get your dog to stop howling. 

Ignore him

While ignoring your pup sounds counterintuitive, it can help stop unwanted behavior in its tracks. Even scolding your dog is a reward in the form of attention. Ignoring your dog will teach him that howling won’t get him the attention he craves.

Remove the stimulus

Does your dog howl when the school bus makes a stop near your house? Be mindful of what causes your dog to howl, and do your best to eliminate the stimulus. While you can’t force a school bus to take a different route, you can take your dog to the quietest room in the house, close the curtains, and possibly run a white noise machine to distract him from outside sounds. 

Reward him when he stops howling

Give your dog a treat when he quiets down, and tell him what a good boy he is. If he starts howling again, immediately remove any treats and return to ignoring him. Dogs are motivated by food, so he’ll eventually make the connection between silence and receiving a tasty treat. 

A Malamute howling while playing in the snow.

Dogs will be dogs

It can be frustrating if your dog loves to get in touch with his wolf ancestry by howling. Once the vet has ruled out medical issues as the cause of his vocalizations, you can get to work teaching your pup how to be quiet. Much like training your dog to do tricks, training your dog not to howl takes trial and error, a lot of patience, and consistency. 

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