You’ve got your pooch in the car with you and you’re driving down the road with the radio on. The song changes, and suddenly your dog tips their head back and howls right along with the melody. Or, your dog might even howl at music playing on the television, the sound of a siren, or a live instrument. There are tons of videos all over the internet of lovable companions singing along. So what is it about those sounds that cue your dog to howl away? Does your dog actually like the sound they’re howling to or does he hate it? Why do some dogs howl more than others?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs, descended from wolves, still share some traits with their wild cousins. Howling is used among wolf packs to communicate in different ways. One of the most prominent reasons wolves howl is to announce their location to the rest of the pack. It can be heard over great distances, so those howls act like location services. Howls can also be in simple celebration, a pack howling together as one pack or family. Some theorize that reason dogs sing to certain sounds is that the particular pitch or tone reminds them of another dog’s howl. Anything with the right pitch may trigger your dog’s howl, even things like cell phone ringtones. And many dogs are keen to sing along. One dog’s howl will encourage others to take part, whether or not the first howl was an actual dog or just something that sounded like one. It’s an instinctual reaction that’s held on since their more wild ancestors howled. Like the midnight bark from Lady and the Tramp, one howl may set off a multitude of others within hearing range. Have you been concerned that your dog could be howling because the pitch hurts their ears? Not likely. If your dog was uncomfortable, they would have other indicators that they were in pain or uncomfortable, including trying to cover their head, running away, or hiding. Some breeds of dogs are more vocal than others. Siberian Huskies and several types of hounds, for example, tend to howl more than others. Some have even learned to “talk” with their howls, mimicking the sound of the words “I love you” or “mama.” Some dogs don’t need a sound to initiate howling. For some dogs, like Beagles or Malamutes, excitement or anxiety can trigger a howl. If you ask your dog if they want to go for a walk, and they howl at you, odds are they’re just excited to go. Dogs may also howl out of boredom or loneliness. Their attitude about singing may differ from dog to dog, even within the same breed.
Encouraging the Behavior
Usually, your dog’s howling is just another form of loveable, adorable entertainment. But, if you’re a musician and can’t practice around your dog, or if your dog’s howling becomes a problem with your neighbors, you may want to find a way to curb Fido’s howls. You can do so by desensitizing them to music. Desensitization works by exposing your howler to softer, quieter music that doesn’t trigger their howling and gradually increasing volume. Always reward your dog when they don’t howl, which works to help your dog associate the music with getting a treat. They will eventually learn that staying quiet means reward. If you have no problems with your dog serenading you, then by all means, let them sing away! Singing or howling is just another way your dog communicates, and there’s no harm in it. You can experiment with different songs and sounds until you find something your dog likes to sing to. Some dogs like to sing to Adele’s “Hello” or “Let It Go” from Frozen. Others enjoy the simple simplicity of a siren’s serenade or a song from another dog. If you would like your dog to sing more often, you can reward them when they sing. Associating it with a command, like “sing” will help them understand what you want them to do. You can play the sound or song that makes them sing, and continue to work with them with positive reinforcement until they can sing on cue.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Howling and singing are a natural, instinctual part of a dog’s
life. There’s no reason to be concerned about your dog’s singing, unless their
behavior becomes a problem with, say, your next-door neighbor. It is possible
to encourage or discourage your dog’s singing habits with additional training.
Positive reinforcement is always a great way to train your dog to limit or
increase their singing practice.
If your dog’s singing is persistent, you may need to determine what’s triggering it. Your dog may have anxiety or something else is bothering them. Pay attention to when your dog sings, and you may be able to figure out what’s causing the persistent singing.
If you have a “Hound Dog” that likes to “Bark at the Moon,” odds are, it’s because whatever they’re hearing reminds them of another dog’s howl, regardless whether it actually is or not. Feel free to join in and sing along. After all, your dog is part of your pack, and they just want to communicate with you, in whatever way they can. Sometimes, that includes crooning along to whatever tune strikes them, and that’s okay.