Dog Howling: The Mystery Behind This Ancient Canine Behavior

dog howling

Have you ever been startled by the hair-raising howls of a dog while out on a peaceful evening stroll? Or awoken in the middle of the night to the eerie, echoing howls of pups in your neighborhood?

Howling is one of the most distinct and primal vocalizations in the canine world. It’s a behavior that intrigues us, sometimes even unsettling us with its power and haunting tones. Yet this very ancient form of vocal communication holds deep significance for our beloved four-legged friends.

In this guide, we’ll delve deep into the fascinating reasons behind dog howling and unravel the mystery of why our furry companions engage in this captivating behavior. Get ready to become an expert on dog howls!

What is Howling and Why Do Dogs Do It?

At its core, howling is a long, sustained vocal pattern made up of varying pitches and intensity. It’s produced through the combined vocal cords and resonates powerfully due to the cupped mouth and pointed snout shape of dogs.

While we may perceive howling as simply loud and eerie noise, it’s an instinctual means of communication that dogs inherited from their wolf ancestors. Wolves howl to:

  • Stake claims to their territory
  • Signal their location to other pack members
  • Rally the pack before a hunt
  • Celebrate after a successful hunt

Our domestic dogs engage in howling for both ingrained ancestral reasons as well as some more unique situational triggers. The most common reasons why dogs howl include:

1. Territorial Behavior

Just like their wolf cousins, dogs will often howl to alert others of their presence and claim ownership over their turf – whether that’s your home, yard, or neighborhood on a walk. Pay attention when your pup howls and you may find they are doing it in response to other howling dogs in the distance.

2. Calling Out to the Pack

Dogs are highly social pack animals at heart. Howling can be their way of calling out to locate the rest of their pack, signaling their location, or trying to rally the troops. This hardwired wolf behavior may kick in both when dogs are apart from their human “pack members” as well as separated from other canine companions.

3. High-pitched noises Trigger the Response

Have you ever noticed your dog suddenly start howling while a siren blazes by or certain musical tones drift through the air? Domestic dogs have an incredible sense of hearing and are extremely sensitive to high-pitched frequencies well beyond what we humans can detect.

When stimulated by certain high-pitched sounds like siren wails, musical keys, or even static feedback, many dogs will instinctively respond by howling. It’s their way of participating in the “canine chorus” and may be an ancestral response to high-pitched wolf calls in the wild.

4. Separation Anxiety

Just like excessive barking or whining, howling can sometimes stem from anxiety over being separated from their owners or “pack” members. Anxious howling tends to have a higher pitch and be more frequent and persistent.

If you have a dog who is prone to howling when you leave the home, investing in training to reduce separation anxiety can be extremely beneficial. Howling can escalate to becoming a nuisance behavior and cause conflict with neighbors when left unchecked.

5. Response to Exciting Stimuli

From the thrill of catching an intriguing scent out on a walk to the exhilaration of a hunt (like chasing squirrels in the yard), many dogs will release their primal excitements through joyous howling. It’s almost as if they are “singing” with delight!

For domestic pups, this type of excited, high-spirited howling acts as an outlet for pent up canine energy. It’s completely normal and usually nothing to be concerned about as long as the howling doesn’t become excessive.

6. Attention-Seeking Behavior

Our clever canine companions are masters at figuring out what behaviors get our attention, both positive and negative. If giving the “howling” command has earned them praise, treats, or playtime in the past, you may find your dog repeating the howling in an attempt to get what they want.

Howling can become an annoying attention-seeking behavior if we reinforce it with any sort of rewards, even negative attention like scolding. The best way to curb this habit is through determined training and non-reinforcement of howling for attention.

“Wolves howl to communicate with one another, to advertise their presence, signal their location, and to coordinate a unit.”

Rick McIntyre, Wolf Biologist

Now that we understand the roots of howling, let’s delve into the unique styles and variations canines can produce with their howls.

Different Styles of Howling and What They Mean

Just like human languages have endless variations and tones that add context and layers of meaning, dogs too have diverse styles of howling. Paying attention to the specific pattern of howling can provide insights into your dog’s emotional state and communication.

Here are some of the most common howling styles seen across different breeds:

The Classic Wolf Howl – Long, drawn-out notes that carry far and rise and fall in pitch are hallmarks of the iconic wolf howl. Many dogs like Huskies and other spitz breeds are especially prone to emitting these chilling and beautiful ancestral howls.

Harmonic Chorusing – When two or more dogs howl together, their pitches may rise and fall in unison, producing an almost musical chorus effect. You often see this group howl style when a howl kickstarts a chain reaction or in breeds with strong “pack” behaviors.

Staccato Alerts – Quick, abrupt howling bursts in short staccato notes indicate alarm, alert, or warning signals. These howls are sharp, piercing, and meant to grab attention as a territorial or defensive response.

High-Pitched Wails – When dogs howl with especially high notes and intense volume, they are expressing anxiety, distress, or excitability. These howls demand attention but vary in meaning depending on context.

Low-Pitched Moans – Soulful, low-pitched howls with a moaning vocal quality tend to be more investigative as your dog tries to locate the source of intrigue. They are often precursors to more excited howling.

Breeds Known for Their Stellar Howling Abilities

While almost all dogs can howl thanks to their instinctual ancestry, some particular breeds are especially gifted howlers:

  • Huskies – One of the most iconic and persistent howlers in the canine world with their wolf-like vocals.
  • Alaskan Malamutes – These hardy Arctic sled dogs inherited a love of howling from their wolf ancestors.
  • Beagles – Don’t underestimate the howling power in this compact hunting breed’s voice!
  • Bloodhounds – With incredible noses and vocal stamina to match, these scent hounds will howl loudly on a trail.
  • American Eskimo Dogs – The piercing, high-pitched howls of this spitz breed will send chills down your spine.
  • Coonhounds – Tree-trailing coonhounds use their loud baying howls to alert hunters.
  • Tamaskan Dogs – These newer wolfdog breeds were intentionally bred for their striking wolf-like vocalizations.

Of course, many mixed breeds and individual canines of any type can howl up a storm too. Dogs use howling as both an expressive and communicative tool in their daily lives.

Tips for Curbing Excessive Howling

While natural howling behavior should be allowed as a normal expression for your pup when appropriate, excessive nuisance howling is something many owners need to manage. Particularly when it comes to territorial, anxiety, or attention-seeking howling.

Here are some training tips to help curb problematic howling:

  • Reinforce the “Quiet” Command – Through dedicated positive reinforcement training, teach your dog to be quiet on command and reward calm behavior.
  • Avoid Accidentally Reinforcing Howling – Don’t give your dog any attention, even scolding, when they howl for attention as it rewards the behavior.
  • Rule Out Underlying Anxiety – Excessive howling can sometimes be due to separation anxiety which should be addressed.
  • Exercise Dog Before Leaving – A tired, well-exercised dog is less likely to have pent up energy to howl.
  • Use Calming Supplements/Music – Consider calming tracers, pheromone diffusers, or specially-designed dog music to reduce howling triggers.
  • Be Patient and Consistent – Like any nuisance vocalization behavior, curbing excessive howling takes dedicated time and training consistency.

Let Those Canine Vocal Chords Sing!

At the end of the day, howling is a normal, instinctual behavior hardwired into our domestic dogs’ ancestral DNA. As long as it’s not excessive nuisance howling, you should feel free to let your pup express themselves through these ancient, evocative vocalizations.

Howling connects our beloved pups directly to their wild heritage. So next time you hear your dog’s tune ringing out into the night, you’ll know exactly what they are “singing” about through their captivating canine chords!

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