Why Do Dogs Howl? And What to Do About Excessive Howling

Learn dogs' various reasons to howl and how to limit excessive howling.

Dog Howling
Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

Dogs lift their chins and let out long (and often loud) howls for many reasons. Specific howls are sometimes related to the dog's breed, personality, and circumstances. Dogs may howl to communicate with you or with other dogs, conveying that they are lonely or that someone is in danger. Sometimes, they are responding to sounds they hear or expressing discomfort or pain.

Much of what we do know about howling dogs comes from studies conducted on wolves. Like wolves, dogs are pack animals that use sound to communicate everything from pain and fear to dominance and friendship.

Here are a few key reasons why dogs howl.

Undergoing Physical or Emotional Distress

A dog's howling may be a response to physical or emotional pain. If your dog is repeatedly howling for no obvious reason, or if the howling behavior is new and accompanied by other symptoms, it's important to seek out a veterinarian's advice and care.

Responding to Stimuli

Certain sounds—sirens, other dogs, music—are common triggers for howling. Why do dogs howl at these noises? Consider it your dog's way of communicating with the stimuli, acknowledging that they hear something with a noise of their own.

Seeking Attention

A dog that is bored or lonely may howl to let you know they want your attention. A loud, seemingly random howl is a very good way to say "come here" because dog owners almost always respond. Dogs may also communicate that they've found something they want to share. From a canine point of view, a new dog or an interesting scent may be worth howling for, as it draws their owner's attention to the exciting find.

Communicating With Other Dogs

Like wolves, dogs use howling to communicate with one another. This particular sound can convey to other dogs that they should stay away, come closer, or notice danger. Howling is also a response to unknown humans at the door; it is a warning to you, as your pet's "packmate," that danger could be approaching. (Baying, which is slightly different from howling, is usually used to alert humans and other dogs to potential danger.)

What to Do About Excessive Howling

A natural canine behavior, occasional howling is nothing to worry about. In fact, some dog owners enjoy "singing" with their pets; also, it's important to respond positively if your dog howls to share an exciting discovery with you. Excessive howling, on the other hand, can create problems in your home and neighborhood. Fortunately, there are ways to keep the noise to a minimum.

Before taking any behavioral measures, be sure that your dog's howling isn't connected to a medical issue. If the howling is new and ongoing, take your pet to the vet and explain exactly when and how the howling occurs.

Once you have ruled out any serious health concerns, you can better determine the source of the problem. If the dog seems to be howling to get your attention and companionship, they may be anxious or need more socialization. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety might also pace, excessively chew, or poop in the house rather than outside. If your dog is howling in response to stimuli such as sirens, music, or the barking of other dogs, you'll notice a pattern of howling related to those events. In both cases, it is possible to change your pet's behavior through training. Instead of responding positively:

  • Ignore the noise and reward your pet only when they are being quiet.
  • Distribute treats regularly to your dog when they are behaving well, and withhold attention and treats when they howl.
  • Provide distractions, such as chew toys, to keep your dog engaged.

If the triggering event is likely to reoccur—for example, you'll be away from home at a certain time every day, or someone in your home regularly practices playing an instrument—you may need to desensitize and counter-condition your pet. To do this:

  • Expose your dog to shorter experiences of separation or the triggering noise. Reward them when they don't howl in response.
  • Extend the period of exposure little by little, providing positive feedback each time.
  • Each time you expose your pet to separation or loud noise, give them the desired activity or treat, such as a special toy, so that they associate separation or noise with a positive outcome.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our dogs, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.

View Article Sources
  1. Siniscalchi, Marcello et al. "Communication in Dogs." Animals, vol. 8, no. 8, 2018, p. 131., doi:10.3390/ani8080131

  2. Mazzini, Francesco et al. "Wolf Howling is Mediated by Relationship Quality Rather Than Underlying Emotional Stress." Current Biology, vol. 23, no. 17, 2013, pp. 1677-1680., doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.06.066