Dogs crying together, often called howling, is a sound that cuts to the heart. It is a sound that can be attributed to wolves out in the wild. Your dog may howl for different reasons but the act of crying together goes back to the days when dogs were part of packs living in the wild. Dogs are still pack animals and they cry together to communicate in the same way their ancestors did years ago. Communication is important for many reasons, but the most important factor is probably territorial. Long ago each pack would have to cry out to the other members who may have gone on a hunt to return to the den. The crying or howling would signal where the den was hidden. The pack would also cry out to warn other wolves of the territorial presence of the pack. The wolves would cry in harmony, so they gave out a stronger signal. It would sound as if there were more wolves present than the intruder might have expected. Dogs have learned to cry or howl from a young age. This behavior has been incorporated into their communication skills and they cry for different reasons. Crying together is part of pack behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
Young pups soon learn to get their mother’s attention when they cry together in demand for food. Initially, they are fed mother’s milk, but as they grow in the wild they learn how to cry for their food. It is often supplied by adult members of the pack through regurgitation while the pups are being weaned. Dogs crying together can employ a different range of sounds. They can howl, cry, whine, and whimper. When they use this form of communication together it is usually relevant to territorial possession. Dogs often cry at night as a signal of ownership of their area when other dogs may be about. Crying and howling will strengthen a bond between members of a pack. Sometimes when one dog starts to howl, the others automatically join in to say they are part of the team. The sound of dogs crying together can signal boredom and loneliness. Dogs will also cry or howl in sympathy for another dog that is injured or unwell. This is yet another form of bonding within the pack and shows how close the animals are to each other.
Superstitions handed down over the years from Egyptian times says the howling dog was calling Anubis, the god of death. Anubis, according to Egyptian mythology, had the head of a dog and took care of the dead. There are stories told of dogs crying at their master’s deathbed as they seem to have a sixth sense about death and injuries. Certain musical instruments can evoke a howl or loud cry from dogs. A bit off-putting if you are a practicing musician, but dogs tend to howl at the wind instruments and some string instruments that have a very high pitch. This high pitch sound could just be too strong for their sensitive ears. The sound of sirens from police cars, ambulances, and fire-engines can also provoke howling and crying out loudly. Dogs will often respond to another howl or high-pitched noise and together with other dogs can kick up quite a cacophony of sound. The sound of dogs howling at night can be quite eerie and disturbing. Many dog owners prefer to have their dogs sleeping inside so they feel safe and secure within the confines of the household and confines of their den. A dog sleeping inside can warn you with a growl rather than a loud howl or cry if there is an intruder.
Encouraging the Behavior
There are several hunting breeds that have been trained to use their vocalization skills to communicate through crying out as they go into the hunt. Foxhounds, both English and American breeds, rally around the hunters and the horses. The sound of the horn signals the start of the hunt. The hounds are ready to cry together to race out and try to get the scent of a fox. Baying is the widely used term for this action. The foxhound and other hunting hounds will lead the hunt followed by the hunters on horseback. The Bloodhound is also a great tracker and when he picks up on the scent to be followed, his cries will alert the other Bloodhounds to the fact that he has picked up the scent they were looking for. These are the positive sounds you can hear from dogs using their innate ability to cry out and lead a hunting party.
Dogs who are left at home and may be bored or lonely, will also use this form of communication to call out and say, "Where are you?" If your dogs are left at home, they may not wait so patiently for you to come home. Your dogs may cry together to say they are not happy to be left alone. Two or more unhappy dogs may well set up their harmonious cries that will disturb the neighbors. Pups learn this behavior when they are young and will howl for their mother if she is away for too long.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Whenever your dog tries to communicate with you it is important to look at his body language as well as listen to his cries. Dogs have a range of cries from the short bark to the long and mournful howl. They make these sounds together as part of pack behavior and the way they bonded together from puppy stages to adults. Dogs may cry together just to welcome you home after a long day home alone. The crying should cease when everyone is back in the ‘den’ and the alpha dog is home again. This would be a normal case scenario. Other signals of crying and howling could need investigation in case of separation anxiety, boredom, or an injury. An animal behaviorist or visit to your vet would help identify medical or behavioral problems. It is a good idea not to ignore your dog’s attempt to communicate with you.
There is nothing like a good old country and western song to tell someone you love them. Maybe your dog can cry in tune like one of those famous singing dogs. If you have a ukulele you could be using the tuning song "My Dog Has Fleas" to tune your musical instrument. Play the song and see if your dog likes the idea of being part of the chorus. Have fun and sing along together, you and your dog and your ukulele! Do remember though a cry from a dog could also be a cry for help.
By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither
Published: 03/21/2018, edited: 01/30/2020