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Why Do Dogs Howl? The Real Meaning Behind Your Pooch's 'A-Woo' Habit


Why do dogs howl? The answer is somewhat simple, though there are a lot of variables therein. Ultimately, howling—like barking, growling, or gruntingis a form of canine communication.

"Dogs howl because it’s how they communicate. More specifically, it’s one of the ways they use to communicate," California-based veterinarian and veterinary writer Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, says. "There are plenty of reasons why dogs might want to howl—as a response to high-pitched sounds, to express anxiety, to tell us they're hurt or sick, or to get attention. The best way to go around it is to understand they want to communicate something and educate yourself on types of howling to understand if it needs your closer attention (if the dog is sick or anxious) or it needs to be managed in a more acceptable way (if it howls for the attention, it might need some other reinforcement tactics to manage how they communicate)."

If your dog howls to the point of it becoming a problem, whether for you or your neighbors, your best bet is to take them to your veterinarian for a checkup to make sure they're physically well. If they're perfectly healthy and still howling, you can work with a trainer to correct the behavior. (If you aren't sure where to find a good one, ask your vet for recommendations!)

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Find more specific reasons dogs howl to get some context and ideas for how to assess your own pooch's vocalizations. 

Dogs Howling Is a Genetic Throwback to Their Ancestors: Wolves.

While your pooch may not "a-woooo" at the moon, they still have some wolf in them!

"Wild members of the dog family, like wolves and coyotes, use howls as a long-range communication signal. The purpose is mostly to communicate territory and to facilitate cohesion within their pack," Dr. Jonathan Roberts, BVSC and veterinarian for PetKeen, tells Parade. "It is thought that howls can be unique to the individual as well as the group. Howling in domesticated dogs is a genetic remnant of ancestry from wolves. While no longer required for its original purpose, howling in domesticated dogs is solely used for the purpose of communication. This communication can be between humans or other dogs, and could also be a 'cry for help' if the dog is suffering from anxiety or other illnesses."

Related: It’s Weird, Gross, and We Gotta Know—Why Do Dogs Eat Poop? Vets Explain This Dirty Habit

Some Breeds Howl More Than Others.

Your dog's breed—or its wonderful mix thereof—may play a role in how much they do or don't howl.

Julie Fritz of Canine Journal explains, "All dogs can howl, but some breeds are more well-known for it. Hound breeds like beagles and Basset hounds love to vocalize due to their hunting function. Their prominent voices tell a hunter they have gotten their prey."

Hounds aren't alone! "Breeds that look like wolves, like Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, and any sled dog mix, tend to use their vocal skills more often," she says. "These working dogs have the adventurous trait of seeing what is over that next hill, and since they often live in groups with other like-minded dogs, howling becomes a bonding activity between them."

Related: 25 Mixed-Breed Dogs That Will Have You Ready To Adopt Your Next Fur Baby

Howls Can Be a Warning or a Cry for Help.

If your dog sees, say, the mailman or an unknown visitor approaching your house, they may howl to alert you to what they perceive as an intruder (even if it's just the nice guy who is delivering their monthly box of toys and treats!). Joan Hunter Mayer, certified professional dog trainer, owner of The Inquisitive Canine notes that howling in this context is often paired with barking.

Dogs May Howl to Protect Their Turf.

If you have a territorial dog, that may factor into their habitual howling.  Dr. Maureen K. Murithi, a veterinarian with PetKeen, says that howling is a "way of communication with other dogs to keep off their territory," adding that it's "more of a warning and a defense mechanism" in these instances. If Fido gets vocal when you steal his spot on the couch, you can attribute it to this!

Dogs howl at annoying or high-pitched sounds like sirens.

While you can probably tell the difference between, say, a fire truck's siren and a dog howling, dogs aren't quite as up to speed on the sounds of modern technology—and they may respond in kind.

"Some dogs may perceive the sound of a siren or alarm to be the howl of another dog in distress," Dr. Roberts says. "Once one dog starts to howl, many may join in. This behavior is an attempt for dogs to communicate their position to each other during these distressing times and is a throwback to their wild ancestry. Another theory to explain why dogs howl at sirens is that they are trying to communicate to us that they are experiencing anxiety or fear and the loud, annoying sound is causing them distress."

Alex Crow, a veterinarian who works with Happiest Dog, points out that if a dog howls at the sound of a siren, it may be your dog's means of trying to alert you to potential danger—or that they're ready to jump into action. What good boys and girls!

Related: Give a Furry Friend a Forever Home: How to Adopt a Dog In Every State

If Your Dog Is Howling, It May Be Injured or Unwell.

Dr. Roberts advises seeing a vet if your dog is howling without any visible or audible external stimuli.

"Dogs that are howling without the stimulus of loud sounds may be showing more complex behavioral issues or even signs of injury or illness," he said. "If there are no obvious signs of illness or injury it may be worth considering a trip to the vet to investigate any underlying issues."

Older Dogs Howling at Night Is a Cause for Concern.

If you have an older dog that howls mostly at night time, Dr. Sarah Nold, staff veterinarian at Trupanion, says it may be time to see a veterinarian.

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"Howling, often at nighttime, may also start in older dogs as a result of cognitive decline or not being able to see or hear as well," she told us.

In those cases, it's important to get your dog a checkup from your veterinarian to ensure your dog is as happy and healthy as it can be for as long as it can be.

Related: 15 Most Affectionate Dog Breeds to Give You Emotional Support (and Puppy Cuddles)

Howling Dogs May Have Separation Anxiety or Other Mental Health Concerns.

Did you just take your dog home from a shelter or breeder? In that case, they may be howling as they try to get adjusted to their settings, Lindsay Stordahl, dog trainer for ThatMutt, explains. "Some dogs will howl out of loneliness or anxiety when they are alone. This is more common in puppies who are adjusting to their new homes and families."

Just like their human companions, adult dogs can also get lonely, anxious, and depressed, and their mental health is important. The good news is, these issues are treatable, though they may take some time.

Dr. Roberts explained, "If no physical illnesses are present it is most likely that their mental wellbeing is unstable. Separation anxiety and isolation are the two most common behavioral issues that can result in howling. If separation anxiety is the likely cause of your dog’s excessive howling, it may be time to consult with a veterinary behaviorist to come up with a game plan. The end goal of behavior therapy is to condition dogs to have pleasant experiences while left alone, whether this takes the form of toys, treats or amusing activities."

Another solution? Get on the ground and give them some attention! Dr. Roberts notes, "Dogs that receive regular exercise and plenty of positive dog-human interaction will be less prone to separation anxiety."

Dogs Howl to Be Where the Action Is.

Have you ever seen videos of huskies "singing?" It's a form of howling, and it's pretty adorable!

Shonyae Johnson, CPDT-KA, KPA-CDT and Animal Behavior Manager for Operation Kindness explained, "While it’s not entirely known why this happens, it is suggested that dogs use this to bond by joining in on the things going on around them. You’ll commonly see funny videos of dogs howling to music, almost as if they’re trying to sing along and join their owner in the fun."

Related: They Can Bark and They Can Howl, But Can Dogs Cry? Here’s What Veterinarians Say

If Your Dog Howls, It May Be Acting as Your Hype Pup.

If you sing, yodel, or otherwise yell around the house, your dog may howl along as your hype man, professional dog trainer Kevin Ryan of says: "If you howl and your dog howls along, it's probably an indication of excitement—almost like a group chant when a sports team gets pumped up before a game (or, for the animal, a hunt). You and the dog are essentially hyping each other up."

Your Dog May Be Howling From Boredom.

You know how when kids are bored, they can get mouthy and act out? If your dog is howling, they may well be bored, too.

"One of the most common reasons dogs howl these days is out of boredom," Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS, a consulting veterinarian for FiveBarks, tells us. "When dogs are not provided with enough mental or physical stimulation, they can become vocal. These non-stop howls are a way of the dog expressing distress and frustration. It can also be a form of asking for the attention they crave. This sort of howling can exasperate owners and neighbors alike and can be a hard habit to break, especially when it has been going on for a long time. Owners need to address this sort of howling by ensuring their dogs have plenty to keep them entertained; both in the form of exercise and mental activities."

Related: 25 Best Guard Dogs With a Natural Instinct to Love and Protect Your Family

Your Dog May Be Howling From Happiness!

Veterinarian and founder of Ultimate Pet NutritionDr. Gary Richter points out, "Howling doesn’t always have to be a sign of a problem. A dog may howl as a direct result of being happy, like when they find something new in the backyard. Your pup is basically giving themselves a pat on the back." And don't they deserve it?!

Dr. Stephanie Sheen, a veterinarian at Fuzzy Pet Health, concurs, "We also see howling as a result of excitement, such as when prey (or in the case of domestic dogs, a particularly tasty treat) is located."

Animal behavior expert at Ruffle Snuffle Sarah-Jane White adds, "Another explanation for why dogs howl is that they are simply expressing joy or happiness. Dogs may howl when they hear a familiar voice or when they are enjoying themselves outdoors. Howling can also be a way for dogs to release excess energy and excitement."

Dogs Sometimes Howl While They're Dreaming.

If your pooch has ever been vocal while they're asleep, it's because they're dreaming! (Yes, dogs dream, and yes, studies show they're probably dreaming about you. We're not crying, you're crying.) "If your pup is howling while they are sleeping, it is most likely dreaming," Dr. Rebeca Oliveira, DVM at NHV Natural Pet, told us. "According to science, canine brains go through the same stages of electrical activity as we do, which suggests they can dream too."

Next, check out these 280 quotes about dogs that will make you love your furry best friend even more.

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