Why Do Dogs Howl?

Remember that time Sparky bent his neck and howled at the moon like a little werewolf? It was adorable. But why exactly does your pup do it? Is he trying to tell you something? Well, if you’re wondering why dogs howl and what it means, that lone wolf imagery is a good place to start.

Way back when, before dogs were domesticated, they howled like their wolf relatives to communicate within and between packs. According to Lynn Buzhardt, DVM at VCA Animal Hospital, a howl signified a dog’s location to pack members (“Here I am!”) and served as a territorial warning to nearby critters (“No trespassing!”). Today, these instincts flare up frequently (they are animals, after all), and that’s when we’ll get a howl out of our pups. They’re usually just trying to make their presence known or ward off intruders.

But, wait! There’s more.

A study conducted by the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Bari in Italy found dogs use more variety in their vocalizations than wolves. This is likely due to their close relationships with and proximity to human beings. In addition, the study stated dogs use certain vocalizations with people and other dogs, though some sounds send completely different messages when directed at a person. Basically, this means a dog may howl at other dogs to let them know where she is, but she may howl at you to let you know she killed a rabbit in the backyard. (Thanks, Luna.) Here are some other reasons your dog might howl.

1. Attention

The American Kennel Club expands upon this idea by listing attention as one motivation for howling. Announcing her presence with a howl makes it pretty hard to ignore your pup. You may notice her howling when other dogs walk by the window or when she spots neighborhood canines during a walk. It’s her way of saying, “I’m right here and I see you. Do you see me?”

2. Nerves

Buzhardt adds dogs may howl because they suffer from separation anxiety or are feeling nervous. Keep in mind, these are two very different things. If your dog walker or neighbor lets you know your dog has been howling during the day while you’ve been at work, it’s likely a symptom of separation anxiety. On the other hand, if you can hear your dog howling as you come in the door and she continues to howl as you start prepping her dinner, she may just be a nervous Nellie. She’s unsure you’ll follow through on your promise to love and feed her, so she howls.

3. Triggers

A third reason dogs may howl is because another sound has triggered that animal instinct. Many pet owners have reported dogs howling in response to sirens, which technically do sound a lot like wolf howls, if you think about it. Others have heard dogs howl in response to music (whether it’s to sing along to something good or drown out something bad, we’re not really sure).

4. Injury

Finally, howls or whines could indicate your dog is in pain. You might be able to distinguish this vocalization from the others because more than likely it’ll be accompanied by physical discomfort. But, that’s not always the case, so if you can’t pinpoint the reason behind your dog’s howling, it’s worth a trip to the vet for a check-up. 

Remember, your dog is a canine and related to wolves. Howling happens (in some breeds more so than in others, too). Until someone invents an English-Dog Dictionary, the best we can do is listen and observe to gain as much meaning from it as possible.

25 Must-Have Items for Dogs with Separation Anxiety