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Training your dog to howl on command is a great way to pick up your pack spirit in a hurry, especially if you howl with your dog. It is a fun and exciting way to bond with your dog as well.
If you have a problem barker, many professional trainers may recommend putting a bark or a howl on command as a means to curb the annoyance. It may sound counter-intuitive, but putting a behavior on command gives you an extra tool to teach your dog when certain behavior is appropriate – and when it isn’t!
Most dogs can learn to howl, although some breeds take to it easier than others. For example, Huskies, Malamutes, Beagles and Basset Hounds are examples of breeds that just love to get their howl on. On the other hand, many quiet breeds may present more of a challenge. Greyhounds, Basenji, and Pugs are not as likely to take to this trick quickly, if at all.
The hardest part of training this trick is triggering the howl in the first place. If you already know that your dog will volunteer a howl under certain circumstances, then use that to your advantage and save time teaching this trick. In this case, follow the 'Soundtrack' method, substituting whatever trigger already works for your canine.
Decide what you want your cue to be for this trick in advance of starting a training session. Suggestions include your own howl, a secret hand signal, or simply the word “Howl!”
The only tools you need for training this trick is your pouch of small treats cut into pea sized pieces and your clicker (if you use one.) If you do not use a clicker, then you can use a sound to “mark” the behavior you like, in this case a howl, followed by a reward.
Keep training sessions short enough that your dog stays interested. Avoid any corrections or punishment during your training time. This keeps your dog engaged in learning because it is fun and validating for them.
An important technique for training this trick is to be consistent with your “criteria.” Criteria simply means whatever benchmark you are going to use before you mark and reward a behavior. Getting this trick right will require you to raise your criteria for better and better howls as you go along. This will get you the deep and rich howl that you want to have on command.
The instructions below show you when the time is right to start raising the criteria for best results.
The Soundtrack Method
A video or soundtrack of wolves or dogs howling is enough to trigger some dogs to join in the fun with a howl of their own. This is a good first tactic to try to encourage your canine to offer up a howl. If you get one, immediately mark and reward, leaving the soundtrack on. Repeat 10-20 times.
Add the cue
Leaving the soundtrack on, start adding your chosen command. You can start by giving this cue right as your pup starts to howl, or if you can, try to get it in just before you expect that they will howl. Repeat 10-20 times.
Try turning off the soundtrack and giving your cue. Wait for 5-10 seconds before turning on the sound again. Click and reward all howls, no matter how small at this stage. Your goal is transition away from the sound to trigger your dog with your cue instead. Be patient and work this step until the cue alone gets the howl, more or less every time.
Once your dog will howl on command, you can be more selective about the quality of howl you will reward. Keep your reward rate pretty high so that Fido won’t get frustrated and give up. Be clear about your criteria in your own mind as you slowly raise the bar in this step.
Practice and proof
As with any behavior you are teaching your dog, be sure to practice during daily sessions for a week or two. Add in some random practice to really perfect this trick. Stop rewarding all howls that you did not ask for.
The Mirror Method
Sometimes dogs will offer up their own howl if you get them started with your own version of a howl. Professional trainers call this “mirroring.” If this works for your dog, click and reward when they vocalize. Repeat 10-20 times.
Add a different cue
If you are happy with your own howl being the cue for this trick, then you can skip this step. If you want a different cue, then start giving it before your howl for 10-20 repetitions. Then, give just the cue without the howl to see if your dog catches on. Your goal in this step is to transition to your desired cue.
In the first steps of teaching this trick, you can take anything that is a howl, no matter how small or tentative. Once you have the trick on command, it is time to raise your criteria gradually until you have the nice strong howl you are looking for.
Depending on how comfortable your dog is with vocalizing, you may have to practice this trick in daily 10-15 minute training sessions for 1-2 weeks to really ingrain the trick. After that, practice the trick randomly so you can be sure to have it in a pinch.
Once your dog really understands this trick, it is time to stop rewarding unsolicited howling. In addition, if you are trying to curb problem barking then adding a “time out” for unwanted barking or howling is most effective if added at this stage.
The Capture Method
Capturing a howl
Professional trainers use the term “capturing” to mean taking advantage of behavior your dog volunteers as the first stage of training new behavior. The trick here is to be ready when your dog offers up a howl without being asked. Make a huge deal out of it with a big reward and lots of praise. Try to get a second howl right away if you can.
Mark and reward
Click/reward all howls that your dog volunteers. At some point, and it may not be in the first session, your dog will realize they are being rewarded for the howl and more likely than not, they will try again for another treat. Click/reward and repeat 15-20 times until your dog is offering up one howl after another for a treat.
Add a cue
Once your dog is giving you howls for treats, start adding a cue right before, or at the earliest stage of a howl you can manage. Click/reward every howl you get, but add some praise for those that come after being cued.
To get the best howl out of your dog, it is a good idea to become more picky about which howls you will reward. Don’t move too fast to the 'refine' stage. You want your dog to really expect a treat for a howl before starting to adjust your criteria for a better howl or they will get frustrated too easily.
Practice and proof
Practice this for 10-15 repetitions per day, including a few random tries with big rewards for success. Stop rewarding howls that are offered without being cued.
By Sharon Elber
Published: 01/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021