Your Boxer, Skurry, is the best dog you’ve ever had. She’s gentle with your children, fiercely loyal, athletic, and intelligent. Ever since the day you brought her home, you have loved that wrinkled face and affectionate doggy smile. You also feel lucky that Skurry doesn’t bark too often, and is usually a quiet dog. However, it seems that if she detects even the slightest threat to you or your family, she turns into Dr. Jekyll, and starts howling like a banshee. Although Skurry’s howling makes you feel confident that no one will rob you, she also howls at things that are no threat at all. Right now as Skurry howls at the broken air conditioner going on and off, she keeps you awake at midnight. You reflect on the following questions: Is Skurry’s protective nature normal for Boxers? Are there other reasons that Boxers howl? Can you teach Skurry to howl less? These question relay in your mind over and over again instead of the dreams you should be having.
The Root of the Behavior
Bred first in the 1800s, the Boxer is a mix of a Bulbeisser and English Bulldog and was bred to track down prey and hold onto that prey until the human hunters could catch up. This skill makes Boxers excellent watchdogs because they were trained to always be on guard and observant of their surroundings for anything unusual. This is why Skurry howls at the dying air conditioner. Skurry also is very sensitive to sounds and can start howling at loud recurring sounds like ambulances. More importantly, Skurry remains the most loyal dog you’ve ever had, and one of the most-loved personality traits of a Boxer is their endearing and protective nature. She is a highly affectionate dog that finds it her duty to guard your family even if she may do so at the expense of you missing a few hours of shut-eye.
Although Skurry howls when she is in watchdog mode, Boxers are actually not known for being regular howlers. In fact, when dog owners were asked on an iheartdogs.com survey if their boxer howled, only 20% said yes, and 80% said no. This is another reason the Boxer is considered a wonderful family dog. She’s not always barking at the kids, but when something threatens Skurry’s domain, all hell breaks loose; her territorial instincts kick into full force, and for her, these are in the form of a howl. The bright side, if there ever were a serious threat, Skurry would also be able to use her Boxer agility and athleticism to take that threat down! Although you figured out why your Skurry howls, there are some other reasons why Boxers howl. Some reasons, according to Elle Di Jensen of The Nest are “lack of training, bad breeding or, for some problems, lack of early socialization.” Although many Boxer temperaments differ, they may also howl to make their existence known or to communicate with other dogs. Some Boxers also howl when they are in pain.
Encouraging the Behavior
Whether or not to encourage or discourage this behavior depends on the reason why your Boxer howls. In Skurry’s sense, she’s howling to protect her family, and although sometimes annoying, she’s faithfully got your back, and that might put you at ease. At the same time, the excessive howling at the air conditioner could take a toll. In situations like this, you could substitute another behavior for when Skurry inappropriately howls. For example, everytime Skurry howls at the air conditioner, give her a chew toy instead. Although tedious for a while, soon Skurry will be diverted to a different behavior, and you may just be able to get a good night's sleep.
If this technique doesn't work, and Skurry seems especially obsessed with howling at the air conditioner, you could try systematic desensitization and counterconditioning. This technique involves finding out why Skurry has such a strong emotional response to the air conditioner and then taking steps to replace the air conditioner sound with other less invasive stimuli. This technique explores the psychology of what elicits an emotional response and there are even certified trainers that specialize in this technique. You want Skurry to protect your family, but you also want her howls to be meaningful and reflect a real threat.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you discover your Boxer howling in pain, find the source of this pain, and try to make your furry friend as comfortable as possible as you call or drive him to the vet. If your Boxer is trying to communicate with other dogs through howling and it annoys you, use the same strategy as howling at the air conditioning. By substituting the behavior. You also could praise your canine pal when she is not howling by providing treats or utilizing a clicker. Although you could also just fix the air conditioner, this does not apply to everyone's situation. However, if the source of howling is something similar that you can remove - an object Skurry hates, etc., it is best to remove it. Also, praise Skurry when she howls for real threats. Although this hopefully rarely happens, let her know you are grateful if she howls at the rabid raccoon in your yard or the bully playing a prank on our kiddo. Let Skurry know that sometimes her howls are warranted.