Why Do Dogs Howl?

Posted by Christy Caplan

I live with hounds so they howl a lot. They howl when I leave the house and when the UPS delivery man visits the house with packages. They howl together, always. Not everyone will love this but I absolutely cannot imagine living with dogs that don't howl. Some days I feel like I know exactly what they're saying.

First, all dogs howl and not just hounds. Dogs howl for many reasons, but the main ones are long-distance communication, territoriality, loneliness, and injury.

Do your dogs howl?

Certain breeds are known for making this popular howling sound but every dog is capable of doing this. The beagle is a great example but even small dogs are capable of making this sound.

We all think of the wolf howling trying to find his pack! Communicating long distances is one of the biggest reasons dogs make this vocalization.

The best example I've read is the one in an article Canna-Pet wrote. They tell us that a wolf's howl is like an audible GPS for finding pack mates.

"With a piercing sound that can travel as far as ten miles over open tundra, a wolf's howl works like an audible GPS for finding fellow pack mates - a particularly useful skill if a predator or bad weather threatens the pack. Think of it as the canine version of Marco Polo - a way to broadcast one's position even if a flare gun and opposable thumbs aren't available."

7 Major reasons dogs howl

Pethelpful has a wonderful article about the top reasons dogs howl.

1. Vocal communication

They're just talking to each other! This may be the reason Sherm howls when the UPS delivery man comes to the door. He just wants to tell me that packages are a nuisance when he's napping!

"Wolves howl to send a message to their separated pack members, informing them about their presence and current location--this method helps them find each other. Dogs have inherited this behavior from their ancestors."

2. Territorial presence

Some dogs howl to keep intruders outside their territory. This goes back to the long-distance communication we talked about above. Howling signals to incoming dogs that a particular area is already claimed and visitors aren't welcome. Go away, predators! 

3. Owner or pack separation anxiety 

Some dogs are nervous when their pack members leave the house (you!) so they may howl when their owner or their pack member goes to work. Our dog Shermie does this.

4. Attention seeking (excitement could also fall here)

Hunting dogs will howl as they find game to celebrate their prize! Many dogs are simply telling you they're super proud of what they've done or found in many cases. Perhaps they just want some appreciation.

5. Medical issues or pain

Howling may be an indicator that your dog is in pain. If you do think this is the case then take your dog to the vet.

  • Pain or injury
  • Illness
  • Separation anxiety when you leave the house
  • Blindness or hearing due to aging
  • Canine dementia

Remember that as a dog gets older there are many medical issues that come up so a senior dog may howl more!

6. Upset, isolation or irritation 

Some breeds are very sensitive to certain noises and one of my dogs will howl if he's upset about a specific noise like if the alarm clock continues to go off.

For some dogs, certain music is an irritating noise, and if they've been hearing it consistently, it may trigger a howl. 

7. High-pitched noises or sounds

Sirens may cause your dog to make a high-pitched noise. They certainly make our two howl! The reason is that they're mistaking the sirens for howls. How sad is this? As your dog gets older they may make this mistake more often.

How do get your dog to stop howling

Since we know there are very specific reasons that dogs howl, you should talk to your vet if this behavior seems out of place or due to something new in their environment. We know apartment dwellers won't have friendly neighbors if their dogs are howling all day while they're at work.

Certain dog breeds howl but a dog left alone with separation anxiety is howling for a very specific reason. They may need a dog walker or someone to come over to hang out with them a few times a day. Howling dogs can get themselves in trouble if they're in an apartment building.

Older dogs may need some special attention too. Since this is their major form of communication they may even howl more often if they cannot see well or are losing their hearing.

I live with Basset Hounds and they're notorious for howling at everything and they do! He also will chime along with coyotes are howling which is a very dangerous behavior as I don't want the coyotes to come any closer to the house! Dog owners should absolutely check in with their vet if the behavior seems out of place.

Do you live with a hound? Please leave a comment and let us know what you did!

WATCH NOW: Coonhounds are the floppiest

recommended for you

Why Do Dogs Howl?