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?”

  1. my staffordshire terrier will come inside and look me in the eye and begin to howl/speak to me as if to tell me of his experience since last he saw me.

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  3. I have a 2 1/2 yr old Australian Cattle/ Pitbull mix. Every time I say I love you to him he starts to howl. I am the only one he does this with. My boyfriend or my daughter could say it to him and he only barks. t is so funny to me that he does this.

  4. My dog used to bark normal.But 2days back a dog on the street started howling which made my dog to howl after we send that howling dog away, my dog stopped to howl. But then my dog stopped its usual barking and started to howl like that instead of it’s usual style of barking…why is it happens?could u give me a solution to stop this?

  5. We have a three year old Rottweiler and sense she was a puppy she picks specific commercials on tv that she howls with. She knows from the minute it starts and will watch till it reaches a specific spot then start howling. She watches Jimmy Dean sausage, Haribo candies, My pillow, and more some have music some don’t but she goes off, we just can’t figure what are the same in these commercials.

  6. I have three dogs that I rescued from the desert about a year ago. A husky, a pit bull and an Anatolian shepherd. At random times late at night or early in the morning, they will all three howl facing each other in a triangle, like they’re in a rock band singing an oldie but goodie. This happens at least 4 or five times a week, and we actually don’t encourage it (we usually have to wake up to make them stop). But it is so interesting to watch. I wish I new why they do it or what triggers it. Maybe the picked it up from the coyotes when they were wild in the desert? Either way, it’s sweet. 🙂

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  12. So my dogs never howl but bark when someone walks past the gate or if someone pulls in to the driveway and sometimes my Labrador barks out the window when there is nothing there.
    I have no idea why though

    1. Hi Guys. I come from a not so affluent neighbourhood in South Africa. Yes, our dogs are well taken care of with balanced diets, inoculations, general care and love, just not well enough to afford dog trainers in this district.
      My personal experience in 38 years was that
      when our neighborhood dogs collectively howl, it usually signifies a bad omen. I mean death. I don’t think it was a coincidence. It’s usually a death of another dog, or a human.

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  14. patricia dirocco

    I have a dog she is 5 yrs old, a beagle mix and she only howls if you play the song piano man and when it gets to the Harmonica thats when she starts.

    1. Kelli Fuselier

      I have a 1 yr old Australian Cattle Dog aka Cooper he howls when we holler “Ruby Ruby Rooo!” He gets all in his feelings.

  15. My little grey terrier mix is 11 years old. The older she gets the more she “talks”. Most of her howling seems to be joy related, at feeding time, at treat time, and when we come home. She almost sounds like she is singing, she changes the pitch and notes. It’s adorable. She has taught our 9 year old rotti/whippet mix to howl too. He used to be very quiet!

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  18. My 2 Siberian Huskies Sky and Balto not only howl but have a singing fest when i come home. Your last statement in reason #1 says it all ” Dogs howl to beckon their loved ones back home.”

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  21. I have a female German Shepard x Staffy who has a very unusual high pitched howl sounding like “wooo woo woo”. The rhythm and length of the howl can change but it will often be in a series of short howls one after the other and can sometimes be quite extended.

    The easiest way to get her to howl is to start playing with her with my feet and then if I stop and tell her “no” (since she starts nibbling on my toes) she will howl straight away. I think this is from excitement.

    Most triggers seem to be play related but she has been known to also howl when I am playing the piano. I like to think she wants to join in but I can’t be sure.

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  24. I have a Great Pyrenees/ hound mix. He loves to ride and we have a trailer made specifically for him that we pull behind our motorcycle . He rides with his head out and ears flapping in the wind. He starts to howl whenever we stop at stop lights and “talks” to the cars next to us. I think he howls with happiness as he goes crazy when he hears motorcycles and jumps into the trailer whenever he hears “wanna go for a ride?”

  25. Annette cardenas

    My rotty Trouble, howels then Beanie the yorkiepoo joins in when sirens go by. Although there is one type of siren they don’t howel to.

  26. I have a 2-year-old beagle that howls from time to time at night when he hears someone come in, sees/close to other larger dogs, and when he hears coyotes at night. He is a quiet dog and never has a problem howling. I got so lucky, it’s almost like there’s no dog in my house!

  27. My 10 year old rescue dog has only ever howled when watching this video

    Every time I play it though he puts his little head back and sings his heart out. Other than that I e never heard him howl and we’ve been pals for 6 years now!

  28. George Pulliam

    I have a choclate lab named Drake and recently he has started howling in the morning I go out side to check on him and he seems fine what can be causing this howling

  29. My Minpin howls to one certain television shows theme song. I think the tones in the song are irritating but my family thinks he is singing. My vet doesn’t know why he is howling.

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