Why Do Dogs Howl?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Does your dog howl like a wolf? Do you know why it does? It may be trying to send you a signal. This lesson gives you a way to decode what it is that your dog may be trying to tell you.

Howling Wolves & Dogs

Howl's it going? Hopefully you're ready for a howling experience when it comes to learning about why dogs howl. Although most commonly attributed to wolves, dogs howl too. Sometimes they howl when they're alone and other times they howl in groups. Sometimes they howl when they hear a siren or someone playing the piano. The circumstances are quite varied. But why do dogs howl?

Why Do Dogs Howl?

The honest answer is: no one knows for sure exactly why dogs howl, but several hypotheses are out there. Wolves howl to one another as a way to communicate, especially over long distances. If a yip or bark is like a conversation between people nearby, a howl is like a conversation over a long distance. Dogs and wolves can't use cell phones to talk to someone far away, so they just howl instead.

Wolves howl to tell other wolves or packs of wolves that they are encroaching on their territory and they better get out, or else. Another reason wolves howl is to get the attention of a member of their pack that has become separated. Wolves want to stay together in a nice family unit and try to get everyone back together through howling. In fact, each wolf has a distinct howl that helps identify each family member by name, so to speak.

Every individual wolf has a unique sound to their howl
Howling Wolf

But domesticated dogs, when compared to wolves, don't really need this kind of long distance communication to survive. They usually don't live in packs, rarely stray far away from their owners to need to howl to get their attention, and typically don't live with people who howl back to communicate with them. So one answer as to why dogs howl may be that it's simply a remnant of a time long ago when dogs and wolves shared a closer ancestry than they do today. Through time, both wolves and dogs retained this communication mechanism, but only wolves and wild dogs actually need it to survive nowadays. It should be noted, however, that dogs rarely howl like wolves do, in the long-range communication kind of way. Instead, they produce quasi-howls that are attention-seeking mechanisms instead.

They may 'howl' to get a neighboring dog's attention to warn them about coming too close or to get them to come closer instead. They may howl to get your attention too. Just like we yell, wave, and jump up and down in hopes of getting a response from someone, dogs may howl simply to draw a response and feel validated that a connection has been established with someone; dog, human, or otherwise. And like each wolf has a distinct howl, different breeds of dogs and individual dogs within that breed will have their own variation of the traditional wolf-howl just like different people have a different sound and mannerism to their voice.

Other Reasons Why Dogs Howl

There are, of course, plenty of other reasons for why dogs produce howling sounds. These include, but are not limited to:

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