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What is Howling?

Dogs communicate in a variety of ways, including barks, moans, grumbles, bays, and of course howls. Howls are quite distinct from other vocalizations, a deep, sustained, doleful sound that is easily identified across long distances. Howling is considered to be a primal vocalization, one that is still frequently exhibited in other canines as well; wolves, coyotes, and even foxes are all known for their howling behaviors. 

Common reasons a dog may howl can be:

  • Alert notification
  • Bonding
  • Boredom
  • Calling the pack together
  • Environmental stimuli
  • Pain
  • Separation anxiety
  • Territorial response

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Why Howling Occurs in Dogs

Nearly all canines have the ability to howl, and any breed of dog may choose to howl on occasion, but certain breeds of dog are much more likely to use this method of communication than others. Breeds that are prone to howling include hound breeds like beagles, basset hounds, and foxhounds, as well as sledding breeds like Huskies and Malamutes.

Alert Notification

Howling is frequently used by wild canines to alert others of their pack that danger is nearby or that a stranger is encroaching on their territory. If your dog is howling in response to people walking by outside or to unusual sounds they may be trying to warn you that something nearby is making them nervous. Although most hound breeds bay when they locate prey rather than howl, some dogs may also employ howling to let you know that they found something interesting. 

Bonding

Wild canines also seem to howl to strengthen the bonds between packmates, like humans singing or chanting in unison. Dogs who howl for this reason will often join in when other human or canine family members howl or sing.  

Boredom

Dogs that are not adequately stimulated during the day may howl out of sheer boredom, and may exhibit additional behaviors that may appear similar to behaviors exhibited by dogs with separation anxiety. Dogs that have separation anxiety will usually start showing behaviors right away, within the first thirty minutes or so, whereas bored dogs may initially go to sleep then exhibit the behavior upon waking. 

Calling the Pack Together

Wild packs of canines will often announce their locations to their other pack members and even call members together using the howl as it is an effective communication tool over long distances. In some cases, your dog may be trying to call you or other missing pack members home.  

Environmental Stimuli

Certain sounds, such as sirens or high pitched instruments, are known to trigger howling sessions for many dogs. Dogs that are howling in response to environmental sounds usually start and stop their howling along with with the sound that induces it. 

Pain

Dogs may occasionally howl in response to pain or discomfort. If your dog suddenly starts howling more frequently or if the howl unexpectedly increases in pitch you may want to examine your pet for injuries or sensitive areas. 

Separation Anxiety

Dogs that are prone to separation anxiety may howl as a way to either relieve the anxiety or to try and communicate their distress. If your dog is howling due to a separation anxiety disorder, they will typically show other signs of the disorder as well, such as pacing, eliminating indoors, and depressive or destructive behaviors.

Territorial Response

Dogs, like their wild counterparts, may also howl as a way to mark what they consider to be their territory and to warn off other dogs. This type of howling may also trigger other dogs within earshot to howl in response.

What to do if your Dog is Howling

Howling is often a natural vocalization for dogs, and if it is only happening on occasion with no additional symptoms, there is typically no need for concern. If your dog sounds like it is in pain or if it is behaving as if it is in physical distress, you may want to contact a veterinarian, but in most cases, the trigger for howling is not a physical condition.

Howling is, however, loud, which can turn this natural behavior into a troublesome habit when it occurs on a frequent basis, particularly if it is within earshot of neighbors. In the case of howling due to boredom, the behavior may be reduced or even eliminated by increasing the amount of daily exercise with your dog or by adding new and interesting toys for the dog to play with when you are unable to entertain them yourself.  Dogs that are chronic howlers may be reconditioned to be quieter once the trigger for the howling is identified, by systemically desensitizing and counterconditioning the animal to whatever circumstance is prompting the behavior, from being alone to hearing the sounds of sirens.

Prevention of Howling

The act of howling is generally a normal behavior for dogs, and you may not be able to reasonably expect your dog never to howl, particularly if your dog is a breed that is prone to this type of vocalization.

There are steps that you may be able to take to prevent some types of howling. Dogs that are exposed to more people, animals, and situations as young puppies may grow up to be more confident and less likely to howl in response to separation and are also less likely to perceive danger when there isn’t any. Bark collars that spray citronella, a scent that is unpleasant to most dogs, may be considered as a temporary measure, particularly in those situations where the dog’s howling is causing problems with the neighbors or with a landlord. For dogs that are howling due to experiencing a great deal of anxiety and stress, anti-anxiety medications may be recommended.

Cost of Howling

In the majority of cases, howling is not a problem that requires fixing, so it doesn’t really have a price tag. In situations in which the howling becomes problematic, treats, training and the possibility of anti-anxiety medication can increase the cost. The average costs for treating behavioral problems relating to over vocalizations, separation anxiety, and territorial issues range from $250 to $650, depending on severity.