Have you ever wondered why your dog just starts howling? Even if you don’t own a dog, you’ve seen, or rather heard, a dog howling inside of a home, behind a gate, in the park, outside of your building or any number of other encounters at all hours of the day and night. So, what’s going on? What is it that they’re trying to communicate? Are they simply establishing dominance, plotting an attack, or perhaps singing?
There are many reasons why dogs howl, and it all goes back to their wolf ancestry and their very genetic code. So, whether howling is an act of naïve expression of a shared ancestry or a lingering remnant of pack life, one thing is for sure. It all seems to be some form of communication. Here are a few things they may be trying to say:
- Howling as a defense mechanism – The most obvious reason for dog howling is that it acts as a defense mechanism. Has your dog ever started howling out the window at the mailman? Well, when a dog howls, they’re marking their territory, defining boundaries to signal to others that the area they’re entering is already claimed and occupied. It is essentially a warning, and if intruders don’t head that warning, there will be consequences.
- Howling to alert – This one’s easy to understand, as we’ve all heard stories of or experienced dogs howling to alert others of discoveries or even injuries and pain. They can do this in regard to both themselves as well as others. Some dogs are even specially trained to howl when they make discoveries to alert their humans, like hound dogs on a hunt.
- Howling as a homing beacon – Dog howling is means to organize their community. In the wild, dogs howl to bring scouts back in after a hunt. It’s a signal of their location. Howling is a vocal homing beacon that guides members of the pack home. Domesticated dogs express a similar call to their loved ones, beckoning them to come home.
- Howling as an expression of anxiety – For many dogs, howling is simply a way to attract attention and express their anxieties (but, some are just doing it to manipulate you into staying just a bit longer). Of course, some howl in protest of being left alone. Dogs know that howling alerts members of their back that they’re in need of something, whether that be out of actual fear or simply to beg for a treat or more play time. And, every time you respond, it reinforces the idea in their minds that this is an effective means to get what they want.
- Howling as bonding – Howling can be a response to environmental triggers, like music playing across speakers, musical instruments, the sound of a fire truck in the distance, even TV theme songs. Though it’s uncertain as to why some dogs howl in response to these audible triggers, most recognize it as a communal bonding experience. They just want to be part of the action along with you.
There may not be one fixed meaning, as interpretation will depend on the situation at-hand, but one thing’s for sure. Dog howling is a vocalization of expression and communication, so the next time your four-legged friend has something to say, pay attention. You just might learn something new.