ALL ABOUT DOGS and CATS Resource Center for Canine & Feline Lovers
A Dog Howling Primer
By Elizabeth Wasserman
Canine Behavior Articles
A few years ago, veterinarian Sophia Yin took her
Australian cattle dog, Zoe, to a horse ranch and let the
dog sleep in the stables overnight. In the middle of the
night, Dr. Yin was startled by a strange, loud howling
sound. "It sounded like the loneliest dog in the world,"
recalls Dr. Yin, DVM, a certified applied animal behaviorist
who works at San Francisco Veterinary Specialists. She
then realized it was her own pet, Zoe. “She thought she
had been left and abandoned,” Dr. Yin recalls.
Your dog may howl when you least expect it -- as you’re warbling a tune at the piano, when
a fire engine siren sounds or if your dog is left alone in a strange place. Howling may not be
music to your ears, but to your pooch, it is a throwback to its wolf instincts. The purposes,
meanings and triggers of howling may surprise you.
Why Dogs Howl
Howling -- like barking -- is one of the ways that dogs communicate with other dogs, and to
a lesser degree, with people. Studies have found that dogs bark for different reasons. While
less research has been done on dog howling, researchers believe that dog howling is a
throwback to wolf heritage and that howls also have a variety of meanings.
Dogs often howl out of boredom or loneliness, seeking to communicate with others, as was
the case with Dr. Yin’s dog. They also may be trying to summon other dogs or alert them as
to their location, identity, territory and more. In the wild, wolves howl in an attempt to
reassemble the pack after individuals travel far and wide. Dogs -- descendants of wolves --
may sometimes be trying to do the same.
“Because howling is long and sustained, its carrying distance is further than a bark, which is
short and brief,” says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club.
“It’s like a ‘long distance’ doggie telephone call, since the long, drawn-out sound can travel
for distances of several miles."
Howling may be triggered by sirens, singing or other noises the dog finds similar to howling,
says Dan Estep, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Colorado and co-author of
Help! I'm Barking and I Can't Be Quiet (Island Dog Press 2006). Social facilitation convinces
dogs to copy another dog's behavior, such as when one pooch barks at the mail carrier and
the rest of the dogs on the block do the same.
Some dog breeds tend to howl more than others, such as hound dogs or Northern breeds,
like Siberian huskies or Alaskan malamutes. That’s because humans have encouraged this
type of vocalization over the years for hunting, sledding and other activities. “The hunter
needs to hear them, so they want to breed a dog with a loud bay or howl that they can
hear over distances,” Peterson explains.
On occasion, dogs will preface a howl with a few short barks. Researchers believe that this
type of howl is meant to try to attract extra attention, sort of like tapping a fork on a glass
in a crowded room. Other research has found that dogs have distinctive barks, and the same
is likely true of howls. “With wolves, the thing about howling that makes it different from
barking is that it’s not only longer but more musical in tone,” Dr. Yin says. "It can be carried
farther and carry more of an individual characteristic.”
How to Control Howling
If your pup’s howling gets on your nerves or your neighbors complain, you may want to try
- Mask triggers If the doorbell or a noon siren from the firehouse causes your dog to
howl, leave the television or radio on to mute the other sounds, Peterson suggests.
- Try an anti-bark collar If you live in an apartment and need to curtail the howling
or else, Estep suggests trying a training collar that either sprays citronella oil or emits
an ultrasonic sound when the dog tries to vocalize.
- Behavior modification Desensitization to triggers may work, Estep advises. Set up
training sessions during which you keep your pet calm and reward it with treats while
exposing your dog to what makes it howl -- the ringing of a doorbell or a telephone,
You can also avoid situations in which you know your dog may howl. After hearing Zoe's
plaintive howl once, Dr. Yin let her dog sleep in her car whenever they went away on
subsequent trips. Given the familiar environment and Dr. Yin’s frequent safety checks, Zoe
napped in peaceful silence.
Artivle written By Elizabeth Wasserman, republished courtesy of The Dog Daily