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Why Do Dogs Howl? Understanding and Interpreting your Pet's Voice

Updated on August 9, 2014

What Can a Howl Tell You about Your Dog?

Howls can come in all shapes and sizes -- the squeaky, nasal ones from little pups or the big ol' deep wail that makes your bones vibrate. Some dogs are howl-whiners, mixing their howls with wind-ups that sound a bit like screaming, and others (especially corgis) are prone to have to work themselves up for a bit before they can make a peep. Like an airplane taking off. Slow at first, but a howl all the same.

To most people, the overwhelming majority of howls seem to possess a very sad, melancholy, or somehow "deep" quality that makes us all wonder, "What are they saying?" Are dogs really sad when they howl? A lot of times, it sure sounds like it!

However, there is actually a much richer and more complex thought process going on inside your canine's brain when he howls, and he may be crying out for a number of reasons that may be good or bad. Understanding these howls and when they occur can tell you a lot about the character of your dog. You can find out what your dogs' howls say about them by learning the 7 different types of howls, which I'll cover in detail below.

Is your dog socially concerned? Or is he an introvert? Do you have a dog that's always bored? Or is your pup a courteous and respectful gentledog? Read on to find out about dog howls below, and don't forget to vote for which kind of dog you have!

#1 -- Boredom - The lazy howl

The boredom howl comes from dogs that are not engaged with their surroundings. Whether that's because they don't have any toys or because they do the same routine EVERY SINGLE DAY with no variation, they want something new. For them, howling is a good way to ooze out some extra energy, since they have no other way to get rid of it.

In order to combat a bored dog, try buying some toys (if your dog likes toys) or changing up the routine during the day. This will re-engage your dog's mind.

This dog's bark seems to indicate BOREDOM. His continued howling even after he's been spoken to is indicative of boredom and apathy. A lonely dog would have responded to attention immediately and stopped howling to be with the owner.

[NOTE: Some foul language in the video from the owner.]

Are Dogs Still Wolves?

Are dogs' howling behaviors a result of their ancestry?

#2 -- Territoriality - Outsiders beware!

Territoriality is one of the most common responses we see in our dogs, but very rarely do we see them howling when they're protecting their territory. I don't now about your dogs, but when mine are being territorial, they bark really loud and really often, pacing back and forth and giving the death-glare to who or whatever earned their ire. But did you know that dogs howling at sirens, for example, is also an example of territory howling? Check out the video:

This dog's howling behavior is associated with TERRITORY. He hears the sirens and the other man-made sounds and does not recognize them as noises from his pack (the owner's family). So he howls to alert the intruder that he's stepping into already claimed territory.

#3 -- Communication - Barking isn't the only dog-talk around

We can all agree that dogs speak to each other in a lot of ways -- in their composure around each other, in their expressions, and in many types of whines, huffs, growls, and barks. But did you know that a dog may howl in order to communicate as well?

If a dog's howl is meant to communicate, that means it's supposed to be an attention-grabber. In the wild, wolves use this type of communication howl to remain in contact with the rest of the pack as they are separated while hunting. An injured or left-behind wolf can howl and alert the rest of the pack of danger. In fact, this is exactly what the dog below is howling about; he's trying to communicate with the rest of the "pack" (his human family) that something isn't right.

This howl is primarily for COMMUNICATION, but in two ways. The dog is trying to communicate with the baby, of course, however the primary function of his howl is to alert the rest of the pack (in this case, the family near and far) that something needs the pack's attention or is wrong.

My Dogs! - Check out a slideshow of my own dogs (or skip ahead to see more howls!)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Zeke (brown), a half-corgi half-beagle and Bryce (black and white), a beagle/chihuahua pretending they didn't just rip open a whole bag of flour.Zeke with his ears all up.Bryce with "Baby," his favorite toy. He'll put it in your lap if you say, "Bring me Baby." He'll go find it if you say, "Where's Baby?"He doesn't go anywhere without Baby.We had a barbecue sauce leak while we were grilling, and before we could stop them, Bryce and Tucker (spotted German shorthair/beagle) were covered.Sadie (pure beagle) cleaning up some more sauce from the picnic table.Size comparison of Bryce with a rather large zucchini that we had.He sleeps like this with Baby. But if we say, "Are you going night-night with Baby?" he paws it to make us think he's still playing.Zeke again. For a dog with congenital heart problems and seizures, he's doing pretty well at 7!Zeke's yawn.Tucker sits where he wants, when he wants, how he wants.This is such a precious picture, because Bryce (abused by another owner; we took him) is finally ready to trust us enough to be on his back!
Zeke (brown), a half-corgi half-beagle and Bryce (black and white), a beagle/chihuahua pretending they didn't just rip open a whole bag of flour.
Zeke (brown), a half-corgi half-beagle and Bryce (black and white), a beagle/chihuahua pretending they didn't just rip open a whole bag of flour.
Zeke with his ears all up.
Zeke with his ears all up.
Bryce with "Baby," his favorite toy. He'll put it in your lap if you say, "Bring me Baby." He'll go find it if you say, "Where's Baby?"
Bryce with "Baby," his favorite toy. He'll put it in your lap if you say, "Bring me Baby." He'll go find it if you say, "Where's Baby?"
He doesn't go anywhere without Baby.
He doesn't go anywhere without Baby.
We had a barbecue sauce leak while we were grilling, and before we could stop them, Bryce and Tucker (spotted German shorthair/beagle) were covered.
We had a barbecue sauce leak while we were grilling, and before we could stop them, Bryce and Tucker (spotted German shorthair/beagle) were covered.
Sadie (pure beagle) cleaning up some more sauce from the picnic table.
Sadie (pure beagle) cleaning up some more sauce from the picnic table.
Size comparison of Bryce with a rather large zucchini that we had.
Size comparison of Bryce with a rather large zucchini that we had.
He sleeps like this with Baby. But if we say, "Are you going night-night with Baby?" he paws it to make us think he's still playing.
He sleeps like this with Baby. But if we say, "Are you going night-night with Baby?" he paws it to make us think he's still playing.
Zeke again. For a dog with congenital heart problems and seizures, he's doing pretty well at 7!
Zeke again. For a dog with congenital heart problems and seizures, he's doing pretty well at 7!
Zeke's yawn.
Zeke's yawn.
Tucker sits where he wants, when he wants, how he wants.
Tucker sits where he wants, when he wants, how he wants.
This is such a precious picture, because Bryce (abused by another owner; we took him) is finally ready to trust us enough to be on his back!
This is such a precious picture, because Bryce (abused by another owner; we took him) is finally ready to trust us enough to be on his back!

#4 -- Courtesy - Dogs have manners too!

As hard as it may be to believe, dogs are aware of a certain social etiquette that exists within their own "doggie culture," as it were. This is why some may tuck in their tails near others and others may bare their teeth and creep sideways (my neighbor's golden retriever is known for doing this!). These are all acts used to break into the social hierarchy and etiquette system of other canines. Dogs like to make their intentions clear, and one who does so is accepted more readily than one who just approaches.

As I mentioned previously, howls can (and often are) meant for just generic communication. That is why, when a dog hears a howl, he is very likely to respond, even if he has nothing to say. Courtesy response is one way that a dog tries to "stay on the safe side" in doggie culture, so to speak. Would you be friends with someone who ignored you every time you said something?

This dog's howl seems to be one of COURTESY. He is not trying to seek out the rest of his pack (like a location howl), so he is simply responding because he should. He is being courteous, just as we would return a person's phone call even if we don't want to go see them or want anything from them.

#5 -- Loneliness - I'm all alone, there's no one here beside me...

Loneliness is a problem commonly faced by dogs, especially larger breeds for some reason. The effects can be even more pronounced if the dog is connected very deeply with its family. Loneliness howls, I'm sure, are some of the most familiar to you -- when you pull out of the driveway to hear the cacophony of doggie voices shouting after you.

But did you know that that howling doesn't always stop shortly after you leave? For some dogs that have a truly hard time coping with loneliness, howling is a continuing, disheartened plea for someone to come, as you can see in the video below.

This dog's howl is definitely one of LONELINESS. He is in the owner's room in order to be surrounded by the familiar scent, and his howls are not as long and loud because he is pausing to hear if he gets any response. However, be aware that loneliness howls typically begin very loud -- it's the typical howling you hear when you leave your house. The dog is simply trying to create a ruckus and get you, the pack leader, to notice that you've forgotten something (the dog).

Remedies for Destructive Howling

If your dog howls because of boredom or loneliness, sometimes toys can be helpful. Try out some of these dog toys that our dogs have loved here at home!

KONG Wubba Dog Toy, Large, Colors Vary
KONG Wubba Dog Toy, Large, Colors Vary

Our dogs love these Wubba toys (in fact, we've named the thing Wubba and the dogs know what we're talking about!)

 

#6 -- Location

Location howls are used often by very social dogs, so if you've got a really outgoing pooch, you're more likely to hear one of these. In particular, though, families will have dogs that do location howls if they live in a neighborhood with multiple dogs that are all friends.

The goal of a location howl is to determine where other members of the pack are. It means that your dog is seeking attention, and I'm sure we've all seen our dogs do a mini-howl right at our feet when we're sitting there not petting them. The location howl is a kind of, "Hey! I'm right here. You hear me, right?"

Petting time usually follows closely behind. ;)

This dog's howl suggests LOCATION because he is alone with only one other member of his pack (the human in the room). In the wolf video he's listening to, there are multiple wolves, which prompts him to howl in order to say, I'm over here! Come find me!

#7 -- Mourning

I think that many people disagree that dogs have a mourning howl. It's likely that you've seen videos on the news of dogs mourning for lost friends or even burying their own puppies that have passed away. We all know that dogs have a great range of emotional capability, so why is it difficult to believe that they may also howl to mourn?

In the video below, these wolves are howling in order to mourn a member of the pack who has just passed away. Their human caretakers are howling with them in order to share in the grief of the pack and let the pack know that they are a part of it.

This howl is most certainly one of MOURNING. A pack member has just passed away. Notice that a mourning howl includes the body leaning forward or appearing hunched down, and the ears do not go back up in between howls, suggesting a negative mood. Pacing also indicates dissatisfaction with the current situation (death).

Which Howl Does Your Dog Use Most?

Does your dog have a tendency to use one of these howls? Which one?

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Got some funny dog stories? Share!

Questions? Comments? Talk to me!

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