A beagle dog howling.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

Why do dogs howl? It starts with wolf ancestry, but there are many reasons why dogs howl. Let's review some of the reasons for a dog howling right here.
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No matter where you live, you almost certainly have had the experience of being out on the stoop or porch late at night and hearing the unmistakable sound of dogs howling in the distance. So, why do dogs howl?

Researchers believe that dog howling is bound up in dog genetics. The ancient dog breeds are recognized for how closely their DNA matches that of the wolves from which they descended. When answering the question, “Why do dogs howl,” we have to examine the following questions, too — Is dog howling an atavistic expression of a shared wild ancestry? A lingering vestige of wolf times and pack activity? Communication seems to be at the heart of things, so let’s seek to answer the query, “Why do dogs howl” — and find out what they might be saying.

why do dogs howl

1. Dog howling is a community organizing and homing beacon

In the wild, wolves and feral dogs howl to bring scouts back to the pack after a hunt. Dogs who remain behind howl to provide the location of their base. Dog howling acts as a vocal homing beacon or a kind of auditory lighthouse that guides other pack members back.

Pet dog howling can be a similar expression, particularly if you’ve been out of the house all day. Dogs howl to beckon their loved ones back home.

2. Dog howling is boundary demarcation and defense mechanism

Howling signals to other dogs that the area they are entering has been claimed and occupied. It is a warning to outsiders that encroachment risks the threat of violence. Howling dogs announce their presence and alert their community to changing circumstances. In this context, dog howling functions as a defense mechanism, warding off potential predators and ensuring the safety of the dogs in the pack.

In a domestic setting, some dogs bark, others howl when a stranger comes to the door or a new car pulls up in the driveway.

3. Dogs howl to attract attention or express anxiety

A howling dog may simply want attention. Some dog owners know that dogs can be as emotionally manipulative as any human. The sound of a dog howling attracts the attention of his owner. Maybe you dash across the house to see what’s wrong, only to find yourself greeted by a dog who wants to be played with. Go through this routine enough times and the dog will learn that howling is an effective way to bring you running.

Of course, there are two sides to this coin. If your dog knows that you leave for extended periods of time, he may howl as an expression of separation anxiety. Dogs that don’t have toys or sufficient things to entertain them in your absence get sad, lonely and depressed. So, the sad answer to, “Why do dogs howl?” could be that your dog is howling in protest of being left alone. Imagine if someone put you in a crate all day or left you in some other space for an extended period of time. You’d howl, too!

4. Dogs howl in response to stimuli and bonding exercises

Dog howling can be a response to environmental triggers. Common provocations include ambulance, police or fire-engine sirens. The sound of these noises were the only times that my dog ever howled. The distant sound of approaching sirens always prompted her to sit up and join in the wailing. The reason remains uncertain, since she never howled at the sound of other dogs howling. Perhaps the pitch of sirens awoke some otherwise-dormant genetic memory.

Much of our research confirms that dog howling occurs when certain sounds are perceived. The prompts and triggers can be anything: music on a stereo at a party, popular television theme songs, or the sound of musical instruments. People who enjoy dogs howling even seem to encourage their dogs by howling themselves! It would seem that one reason dogs howl is the experience of community or of bonding. Why do dogs howl at sirens? Why do dogs howl when you howl? Perhaps it’s to join in and be a part of the action.

5. Dogs howl to alert you to injury or discovery

Another answer to, “Why do dogs howl?” could be that dogs howl to express injury. People weep when they get hurt; dogs howl in similar situations. Dogs howl to vocalize pain. Some dogs are also trained to howl when they make discoveries. Hunting dog breeds howl to signal the pursuit or apprehension of prey. If a dog has treed, cornered or caught something, he may howl to alert his owners to the location of the prize.

Does your dog like to howl, or “sing”?

Some dog breeds certainly tend to howl more than others. Breeds known for howling include Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimo Dogs, Beagles, Coonhounds (Black and Tan, Bluetick, Redtick, English, Redbone and Treeing Walker), Dachshunds, Foxhounds (American and English), Hounds (Bloodhound, Basset), Huskies (Alaskan and Siberian), Native American Indian Dogs and Tamaskan Dogs, among others.

Some final thoughts on the question, “Why do dogs howl?”

One thing to consider is that dog howling, like any other form of vocal expression, has no fixed meaning. The answer to, “Why do dogs howl?” is a shifting signifier whose interpretation is situation-dependent. I enjoy going to karaoke; is it so difficult to imagine that a dog might not howl out of necessity, but out of joy?

Tell us: Is your dog a howler? When and how do your dogs get the urge to sing? Why do you think your dogs howl? Share your experiences with dog howling in the comments! Let us know the breed or mix, if you can.

Thumbnail: Photography ©srugina | Thinkstock. 

This piece was originally published in 2015.

Learn more about dog howling and barking with Dogster.com:

137 thoughts on “Why Do Dogs Howl?”

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  7. wahkuna m scanlon

    We have a dachshund/lab, and he loves to sing. The first song he sang to was “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones, but since then I think it is safe to say he sings to 80% of the music he hears-including background instrumentals in movies or TV shows.

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  10. Lizabeth Anne Shirley

    I have a 2 year old long haired chihuahua named Rocky. It started one day when I was using scales to warm up my voice. Out of nowhere he started to chime in. I was surprised that he was actually howling to the sound my voice was making. That day I became a proud owner. Of course the first thing I wanted to do was share this with my friends and family. I started to howl softly and then progress to louder. Sure enough he followed along like clockwork. My family members and friends got the biggest kick out of it. I can start howling anytime and he will join in immediately. Singing scales was where the howling originated from. The only other time he will howl is when he hears sirens. I have looked online and found a number of videos of Chihuahuas howling with their owners and to songs. I know all dogs are descendant from wolves but the howling from a tiny Chihuahua just kind of surprised me. Little tiny dogs with the lungs of a husky. I consider this to be one of his talents. I had schnauzers and daugshunds growing up. After college I had a couple of huskys and a chocolate lab. Somehow years later this amazing breed made its way into my heart and has not left since. He is the tiniest best friend I’ve ever had.

  11. I need help! I rarely have to leave my havanese. Other than quick trips to the grocery store, ECT. Howevr, on the occasion that I have left her with my mom or daughter ( she is very familiar with both of them and seems to love them and be very comfortable around them when they are around) so when I’m gone they have both told me she just started to howl very mournfully until I got back. Now keep in mind in the year and a half I have had her I have never heard her howl once. Not ever. She barks occasionally but that all. It’s made it very difficult to think of leaving her when I have too. It’s not often but my sister’s out of town wedding for instance and occasional vacation. I never have had the stomach to board her it just makes me nervous I would rather leave her with family people I know and trust. Still every time I have she has done this. I leave her with plenty of familiar toys and blankets but nothing will calm her except my return. I got a little more than a year and a half ago from a breeder and she was four years old. I originally planned on buying one of his puppies but when I saw her she was all alone in a pin and the breeder explained to me that he had decided not to breed her for whatever reason. All of the other dogs were well groomed and together. She was alone and dirty. I offered him 500 for her (the puppies were 1,250.) and he agreed. I took her home and she seemed instantly so happy to be there. I took her to the vet first thing and other than some plaque build up on her teeth she was healthy. They updated her shots then and there. I took her to get her groomed right after and all seemed well. Other people have noticed that she is very attached to me. However she does show attention and love to my family and even strangers we have occasionally come upon that have wanted to pet her. Even though it doesn’t happen often I still have times have to leave her with family and it’s a huge problem! I want to know that when I leave her she will be okay. I feel so guilty that I have major anxiety now at the thought of having too. I want to be able to leave and feel that she will not howl constantly until she sees me again. I feel like there is something wrong with her but I don’t know how to help her.

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  14. David McAllister

    I have a German Shepherd-Alaskan Husky. Loves to howl in reply when I howl to her. Will maintain her howls for the longest time.

  15. Our female Beagle was very quite. She would occasionally try to howel, but it was just a cute attempt. When she was about 14 yrs. old, she started sitting outside at night and howled up at the moon. I questioned our vet about this odd behavior and he had no idea the cause. A few months later she was dying of cancer. My point is, that when your dog howels, check out her health immediately. We were not aware of her pain because she was so sweet and never “complained” . We could have possibly saved her from pain which we are so very regretful now.

  16. My dog, one quarter lab, maybe part pit bull and boxer, and, based on behavior, most probably some terrier, becomes alert when the phone rings, will begin to howl if it is not answered, and really turns up the volume if the answering machine triggers.

  17. Our English Springer Spaniel howls when I play the piano. He rarely barks or makes any sounds. But he really goes to town if I play piano! Because I don’ know if it is an irritant or hurts his ears (perhaps his sensibilities?), I play less!

  18. WOW!!! And I thought we were the only ones that sang with our dogs!!! I have a Chihuahua mix and two Staffordshire Terriers and just like someone else said, it is truly a 3 part harmony; 4 if you count me. Sometimes I start it, sometimes the little one starts it but they all seem to enjoy the bonding experience and they look to me to see when it’s time to stop. It is so entertaining to me I could do it every single day but I’m thinking the neighbors might not enjoy it as much as we do.

  19. Our Eskies howl when they are super excited about something, like going to the dog park or grandma’s or basically any car ride… if you tell them any second before we all head out the door. Otherwise, no howling, just barking…

  20. We have a little mixed breed rescue (Bichon, American Eskimo, traveling salesman) who loves to hear herself “sing.” When friends come to the door, they will say “sing Annie,” and she begins her howling repitoire. She also loves to sit at the top of the staircase (we have 20 ft. ceilings) and sing. It reverberates and echos and she loves it. We say that she is singing the songs of her people.

  21. This is great! I have a 9 yr old Toy Fox Terrier/ Chi mix that starts the song when I play with him in the morning, then I join in, prompting my 2 yr old Pit/Border/Heeler/Ridgeback to join. We all have different tones so it’s like a trio. When we finish our song the two jump off the bed and tear through the house as though they’ve been filled with energy bubbles. It’s hilarious and gives me a great wake up (aparently them too)!

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  26. I have 2 shelties and the boy howls more. He is the more sensitive of the two. He will howl sometimes when he’s in the basement and we are up stairs. He always has his sissy with him, but I think he does it when he thinks we are not home or wants us to come to him. I’ve only heard the girl howl once. It was when they were at the vet and our boy was taken by himself to be weighed outside the room. She’s way less nervous than him at checkups, but when he left the room she let out a wimper and howled! She may have been calling to her brother, knowing he was scared, or expressing sadness that he was gone. Maybe both!

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  28. We have 2 Catahoulas and also a Jack Russell/Rat Terrier mix. We live far out in the country. Almost like clockwork, the male Catahoula starts the ‘singing’ at some point each morning. Sometimes they’ve been barking at something they may have seen across a field, sometimes there’s nothing around. Dexter starts barking and then howling; the other two join in. The three of them also join together to howl when I’ve returned home after being gone a few hours. They also respond to coyotes howling off in the woods at night. We describe Dexter as either feral or autistic. He’s a happy boy who will willingly follow us around the yard but refuses to approach us if we’re looking in his direction and does not show any response at all to being petted. Gracie is just the opposite. Scooter, the small guy in the group, is a typical little dog – full of energetic affection! We’ve had several groupings of dogs over the years. This is the first that has an organized howling chorus!

  29. I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT he barks A LOT… So, leaving home is always a challenge for us. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!

    1. Hi Christina,

      Thanks for reaching out. Please research dog trainers in your area. These articles might provide some insight, but your dog would probably best benefit from working with a pro:

  30. All I have to do is say “Throw down” or “Sing Sing” and it’s on! 2 Beagles and a Silky Terrier. They howl for a minutes, each different in pitch. If I go to long without starting it Axe the Silky will on his own. A couple soft growls and they are throwing down. The beagles have to climb up onmy shoulder or back of the couch. Axe is like a conducter. Don’t know why they do it, but they are a tight bonded pack of 3.

  31. I was just online looking up “howling dog” and found this site. We have a 3 year old Chihuahua, the last time (until today) I heard him howl, was when we had to leave our Beagle at the Vet’s overnight…. Now today my husband went out with a friend to pick up car parts, so needless to say he couldn’t take the dog. He went and looked out the living room, and howled, than he went into the kitchen and did the same thing. Now he is lying on our bed.. He never has done this when left with me alone before, any thoughts, anyone?? I feel so bad, bothing is working as far as getting his attention elsewhere.

    1. Hi Sandie,

      You might want to ask a vet or behaviorist what’s going on. Here are some other articles that might add some insight:

  32. well well, my bulldog does the same to howl at the moon, especially full moon (Twilight mode). but i love it. and if i am not wrong red tiger bulldog howl the most loud.

  33. My Alaskan Malamute with 1/64 wolf Border Collie mix would actually howl when the moon was big and bright. She also loved to howl with people she was bonded with, in harmony. We loved howling ourselves. It feels good.

  34. I have two Yorkie boys that are 9 and 8 years old. Neither boy has EVER howled in their lives–except they did during the last total eclipse that we experienced in the last year. Took them outside, and they both were acting strangely and anxiously. The younger one (who is almost NEVER “vocal” at all started howling and his brother joined in with him. It certainly “added” to the overall “oddness” of the event!

  35. Our Annie is a rescue. Her DNA tests reveal that she is Bichon and American Eskimo, and she is a howler. The only time she howls is when she is sitting on our bed alone and hears the neighborhood dogs bark in the distance. She begins by barking, which rolls into a full blown howl with her head thrown back. I like to say that she is “singing the songs of her people.” She appears to enjoy singing and if I join in, she continues enthusiastically.

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