When dogs howl, it can have a variety of causes. They inherited this behaviour from their ancestors, the wolves. Like barking, growling and whimpering, howling is part of their spoken language and communication. Exactly what they want to express depends on the context.
It often seems that howling is downright contagious – when a dog starts to howl, its fellow dogs join in the “concert”. Sometimes dogs will “sing” along when they hear a siren wail. Where does this behaviour come from, and what does it mean?
Why do dogs howl? When the wolf genes kick in
The dog is known to have descended from the wolf. He has gotten used to living with people and feels comfortable in human company. Despite this, dogs have retained some behaviours inherited from their wild relatives. This includes, in particular, spoken language, i.e. barking, whining, growling – and howling. Even today, the situations in which dogs howl are similar to the contexts that cause wolves to howl. For example, they want to strengthen the cohesion in the pack, warn other pack members of possible dangers, or summon fellow dogs.
By the way: some dog breeds are a little more “singing” than others. These include, for example:
● Alaskan Malamute
● Alaskan and Siberian Husky
● American and English Foxhounds
● Basset hounds
“This is our territory”: Dogs howl to protect their territory
If your dog howls when he sees a strange dog or suspected intruder out the window, it’s probably territorial behaviour. Your four-legged friend wants to tell the stranger that this is his territory and that the other person has no business there.
Singing together strengthens the cohesion of dogs.
If you have several dogs in the house, it is also possible that they will start howling together to drive away intruders. This social howling serves to restrict their territory and strengthens the cohesion within the pack. Anyone who howls with the wolves – more precisely: the dogs – is part of it. After all, we humans also feel particularly connected when we sing together – it’s no different with our four-legged friends.
Lovesick males howl at female dogs in heat.
Do you have a male dog who has been crying his heart out lately? He may have sniffed a bitch in heat at the end of the street and is now consumed with longing. He hopes to call the lady of his heart to him with his singing. He behaves like a bard, so to speak, who, armed with a guitar, is serenading his beloved.
Why dogs howl at sirens
There is also a musical reason for dogs howling along with sirens. Many dog owners then worry that the loud noise will hurt their animals’ ears. However, the opposite is the case because the four-legged friends do not find the howling of the siren unpleasant. The frequencies of the sounds are so similar to the natural howling of a dog that the furry friends feel encouraged to “sing-along”. This phenomenon is called “contact howling”.
Some dogs are so artistic that they howl with music, especially classical music. But the sounds of trumpets, violins and harmonica also invite dogs to join in. Sometimes dogs also perceive sounds in the ultrasonic range that are not accessible to us humans, making the animals howl – albeit in a positive sense.
Loneliness and separation anxiety as a reason for a dog howling
As already mentioned, dogs and wolves howl when they want to summon their conspecifics and pack members. For the dog, his reference person is also part of his pack. If she’s not there, he may howl to call her back. Run over to your dog every time he calls you, and he will get used to it. His behaviour can worsen over time, so he cries even though nothing is going on.
In extreme cases, however, excessive crying can be a symptom of separation anxiety. This can have various causes but can be exacerbated by incorrect behaviour by the caregiver. If you suspect that your dog has a pathological fear of being alone, take him to a dog trainer who is well versed in animal psychology.
When Dogs Keep Howling: Are They Sick?
If your dog is usually the quiet type, sudden, excessive howling can signify illness. He may have pain or other health problems. If you are unsure whether your four-legged friend is doing well, consult your vet as a precaution.