Why Do Bullmastiffs Howl



Legend says that dogs like to howl at the sight of a full moon. In truth, some dogs howl a lot more frequently than that. As owners of dogs with a penchant for howling, we are left scratching our heads wondering what in the world all of the ruckuse is about. A dog howl is a particularly mournful sound. Is your dog simply expressing his sadness? What is the motivation behind all the noise? If you own a Bullmastiff that likes to howl, you're likely more perplexed than most. Bullmastiffs are known as a predominantly quiet breed, and you're starting to wonder if you got a defective one because yours is anything but silent. A thorough study of dog behavior can help us to best understand the motivations behind activities our dogs engage in that often confuse us. Since dog behavior finds its roots in logic, your dog's howling likely serves a purpose that makes perfect sense to him. Most likely, there are many reasons behind your dog's love of bursting into spontaneous song. Is he attempting to entertain you, or does he simply have something to say that can only be expressed in a heartfelt howl?

The Root of the Behavior

The Bullmastiff is a breed developed during the 1800's in England. During this time, aristocratic estates and hunting fields frequently found themselves victims of game poaching. Though penalties for poaching were severe, poachers were willing to take their chances thus necessitating the breeding of a dog to act as guardian of their owners' valued properties. The original Bullmastiff was bred with the stamina to drive poachers from their land. To do so, the dog needed to be of a decent size yet still agile and courageous. To achieve the ideal combination, early breeders selectively bred Mastiff lines to Bulldogs to create a new and distinct breed equal to the purpose for which they were designed. The original Bullmastiff's hulk was intended only to intimidate. His strength lay in his ability to keep a poacher at bay without causing the person any physical harm. The American Kennel Club describes the Bullmastiff's temperament as "Fearless and confident yet docile. The dog combines the reliability, intelligence, and willingness to please required in a dependable family companion and protector." 

Today's Bullmastiff is the perfect complement to family living and is equally at ease on the couch as in the field at work guarding his owners' home. Armed with a thorough understanding of the breed's history, it is easy to see that howling is a skill that would provide little benefit to the Bullmastiff. If your Bullmastiff is a howler, what causes it? In its simplest form, howling is a means through which our dogs communicate with us. Careful examination of the context for the howling can help us to determine the reasons for the behavior. Some dogs howl to alert their owners to the presence of danger. This particular motivation would be in keeping with the Bullmastiff's history as a guardian of home and hearth. Howling is difficult to ignore, and the howling of a 120 lb muscular giant is even more difficult to miss. A hearty howl would scare away any potential thieves and sound the alarm to the dog's owner that his property was under attack. Other dogs like to make a big "splash" to let people know they are on the scene. A 120 pound dog clambering into a room certainly gets your attention, but a boisterous howl just adds to the intensity. Though Bullmastiffs are generally not dogs that create a great deal of noise or clamor, some do like to make a ruckus, and this may be what your dog is hoping to accomplish with his howling frenzy. 

Encouraging the Behavior

Howling can be an attention seeking activity. If your Bullmastiff is howling, he may be trying to let you know that he is craving some extra affection from you. After all, even negative attention is still attention. When howling is evidenced in this context, it can be attached to separation anxiety. Separation anxiety largely occurs when a family member's absence is deeply distressing to a dog. Many behaviors ensue, including household destruction, digging, escape attempts, vocalizations, and in extreme cases, self-mutilation. If your Bullmastiff suffers from separation anxiety, his howling may play a role in that. In these cases, the howling is generally first noticed by your unhappy neighbors. If your dog's howling finds its basis in separation anxiety, it is wise to consult both your veterinarian and a professional dog trainer specializing in behavior modification to assist you with teaching your Bullmastiff more positive approaches to dealing with the stress they experience when you are absent. Loud and piercing noises such as police sirens and shrieking fire alarms can be painful to many dogs' sensitive ears. As a result, some dogs decide to respond in kind. Your dog's howling might simply be a response to a noise they find distressing or annoying.

Of course, one obvious cause for dog vocalizations includes attempts to bring your attention to the fact that your Bullmastiff is sick or hurting. In general, dogs remain very stoic when in pain, so if your dog is howling as a result of an injury or illness, it is most likely that the problem is serious enough to warrant immediate medical attention. It cannot be denied that the modern dog's ancient origins contribute to his behaviors today. Since our dogs trace their roots to the wolf in the wild, it is possible that a howling Bullmastiff is simply doing what comes naturally to him. Wolves in the wild would howl for any number of reasons. They may howl to alert their pack to the presence of a predator or to attract a lost member of the fold back to his family. Though our modern canine companions have no need to fear an attack by a predator, the instinct still remains powerfully alive in them today. The Bullmastiff's guard dog instincts may encourage howling behavior. Though most dogs would detract poachers through their sheer size alone, others may howl as a form of territorial marking. Howling provides a firm assertion of ownership which leaves little doubt in any intruder's mind as to who lives there and how unwelcome their presence on the property is. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

Some dogs howl because they are bored. In the absence of anything else to do, howling seems as good an activity as any other. For dogs struggling with boredom, it is important to provide alternative activities for them to engage in if you hope to keep your neighbors on your good side. The best way to accomplish this is to ensure your Bullmastiff receives proper physical and mental stimulation. If your Bullmastiff is prone to howling, there are some things that you can do to prevent the behavior. First, ensure that your dog's physical and mental needs are met on a daily basis. The simplest way to do this is to procure a toy box for your dogs that you fill with a variety of toys to keep his brain engaged. Choose from a wide selection of toys in various colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. You can also include bones, chew toys, or Kongs which can be stuffed with high-value yummy treats. Toys and edible items provide hours of chewing and licking satisfaction which pack a powerhouse stress relief punch for your dogs.

While mental stimulation is very important for your Bullmastiff, it is also important to address his exercise requirements. While Bullmastiffs are not an overly energetic breed, they do benefit from a daily walk and change of scenery. If you are unable to provide daily exercise for your dog, consider sending Fido to a reputable doggy daycare a few days a week. Alternatively, you could hire a dog walker to stop by to take Fido for a run and a quick check of his pee-mail. Your dog will benefit greatly from the additional exercise, and a tired dog doesn't have the energy to howl. A win-win for both of you. Lastly, if your dog persists in howling in spite of your efforts to keep him occupied, it may be time to consult a behavior modification specialist. Through the use of desensitization and counterconditioning, it is possible for your dog to learn to keep his love of howling to a minimum. 


Your Bullmastiff's howling got you down? While not a nuisance behavior common to the breed, howling is an activity that lots of dogs enjoy engaging in. Keep Fido's brain and body productively engaged to encourage him to learn what an "indoor voice" is and why it's good to use it!