Why do Dogs Howl?

A. Delgado

Dogs howl for a number of reasons, ranging from biological behavior to medical conditions. Howling isn't a common form of communication among domestic dogs, but it is used regularly by wild canid species such as wolves. When dogs do howl, common reasons for it include seeking attention, responding to high pitch noises such as sirens and making their presence known. Owners with dogs who normally don't howl should watch for signs of illness or injury, since sudden howling can indicate pain. Other problems associated with howling include separation anxiety, which can be treated through proper training.

Beagles are known for their howling.
Beagles are known for their howling.

Although why dogs howl isn't fully understood, researchers believe that it is connected to the common ancestry between wolves and dogs. Wolves howl to communicate with the rest of their pack over long distances and to announce their presence to other packs. They are able to distinguish between howls associated with individual members of their pack and those belonging to outsiders.

A wolf howling.
A wolf howling.

Some domestic dog breeds, such as beagles and basset hounds, use howling much like their wolf relatives. Although they don't live in packs, these dogs howl to make strangers aware of them and their territory. Other dogs use howling to get attention from their owners or when they hear certain sounds such as high pitched music or fire trucks. If howling becomes excessive in these cases, owners can train their dogs to use a different behavior when seeking attention, or desensitize them to the noises that trigger howling.

Fire truck with its siren going.
Fire truck with its siren going.

Unusual howling can mean that a dog needs medical attention, since some dogs howl when they're in pain from an injury or sickness. Owners should first check for wounds or other signs of illness, such as changes in stool or urine, appetite changes and loss of energy. Dogs should be taken to the vet for further examination if injuries are severe or if the dog is sick.

Dogs can be trained to use other behaviors instead of howling.
Dogs can be trained to use other behaviors instead of howling.

Dogs who howl when their owners are gone are often displaying signs of separation anxiety. Although it's hard to know for certain since this behavior occurs when no one is home, owners should look for other signs of this condition when they walk in the door. These include chewed up doors or window sills and urine or stool inside the home. Signs that are harder to observe include pacing, anxiety and depression. Separation anxiety can be treated by helping the dog associate the owner leaving with something positive, such as being given a favorite treat or toy.

Some domestic dog breeds, such as basset hounds, use howling much like their wolf relatives.
Some domestic dog breeds, such as basset hounds, use howling much like their wolf relatives.

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Discussion Comments


Why doesn't my dog howl at sirens? She is two years old and is a white german shepherd. I want to know if it's normal for her to howl because my seven week old white german shepherd does howl when it hears the sirens..


My dog used to have seizures, and during them, she would howl. She was thirteen when she had her first seizure, and I thought she was dying.

She had gotten upset because the neighbor's dog was over, and she suddenly just fell over. She started kicking erratically, and she howled as she kicked.

It was overwith within a few seconds, and I was so relieved to find that she wasn't dead. She did seem confused, as if she had no idea what had just happened. I don't even think she remembered it.

She lived for another two years, though she had seizures frequently. She had a brain tumor.


@Kristee – I can't believe you actually want your dog to howl! Dog howling sounds are so sad to me that they make me want to cry.

My dog howls whenever she hears a siren. It can be a fire truck, a police car, or even the tornado siren, which gets tested every Saturday at noon. If I have lost track of time on Saturday, I always know what time it is when she starts to howl!

It's crazy how far away she can detect a siren. I have to strain to listen once she starts howling, and it usually takes a minute or two for me to make out the faint sound of a cop car in the distance.


It doesn't take much to make my Weimaraner howl. Everything from a low whistle to a moaning sound can get her started.

My dog starts with barking sounds ranging from yips to loud bellows, and then she progresses to a full howl. She will continue for as long as I make a noise.

I've noticed that if I howl along with her, she really gets into it. I think she looks so cute when she howls, but I don't want her to wear out her vocal chords, so I keep our howling sessions short.


There is one sound that always makes my dogs howl. That is the sound of coyotes in the distance.

Within a few seconds of hearing a pack of coyotes howling, my dogs will join in with the most mournful sound I've ever heard! Just a few nights ago, three of my dogs were howling together, and they all made different sounds. Two of them howled at different pitches, and the third yipped like a coyote!

It doesn't stop with my dogs, either. All the neighborhood dogs join in, and the night air is filled with the eerie sound.

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