- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
You wake to the sound of your dog howling in the middle of the night.
Many dog owners wonder, is it because of the full moon? But the moon has nothing to do with it—and it’s nothing ominous.
Dogs howl for many reasons, but the main ones are long-distance communication, territoriality, loneliness, and injury.
Much like barking, howling is just another standard method of communication.
What do dog howls mean?
Just like humans doing the wave at a football game, dogs howling can simply be an expression of ancestral fervour as they join in on the chorus.
Your dog’s howling might be an autonomic response, hearkening back to the lineage they share with wolves. And just like howling wolves, domestic dogs can start off a whole occasion of noise with just one howl.
As soon as another dog hears it, all the neighbourhood dogs join in, and the spread can cover a lot of territory!
Most of us have been privy to at least one infectious occasion of dog howls. But unlike when wolves howl in spooky movies, your dog’s howling doesn’t mean something terrible is about to happen.
Animal behaviourists think that dogs howl to:
- Warn off potential predators encroaching on territory (you know, like the mailman or the doorbell)
- Call home lost pack members
- Help the pack find them if they become separated
- Call others when prey is cornered. Hunting dogs like basset hounds, foxhounds, and beagles have been bred to intensify this instinct.
Done right, howling can accomplish many functions simultaneously. Ultimately, it’s a bonding activity that’s healthy and typical for pack animals like dogs.
The Sound of Sirens
We might assign all sorts of human reasons to why dogs howl at fire engines or police vehicles.
Do they have a sixth sense for danger? Do they know that someone is in trouble? Does the sound hurt their ears?
It turns out—although in many ways their hearing is superior to ours—that the most likely reason is that they’re mistaking the sirens for howls.
And as dogs age and senses fade, they may make this mistake more often. This is why older dogs often howl more at sirens than younger pups.
Why do dogs howl in their sleep?
Just like you or me, dogs dream. And during their most active phases of sleep, it’s not uncommon for them to twitch, “walk” their legs, roll their eyes, and even howl.
Unless your pet exhibits other symptoms of a sleep disorder, a nighttime howl here and there is nothing to be concerned about. To learn more about your dog’s dream life, check out this piece on dog dreams.
Pain: Body and Soul
Another reason dogs howl is related to physical and emotional needs. These may include:
- Loss of sight or hearing due to aging
- Canine dementia
- Pain or injury
- Separation anxiety
For an older dog, the loss of some faculties coupled with anxiety, pain, or confusion can cause excessive vocalization.
If you think about it, it makes sense for an older or more vulnerable dog to howl this way, because a howling dog can call their pack to find and protect them, just as they howl to help bring stray pack members home safely.
Sometimes, unusual vocalization may be a sign of physical discomfort that needs special attention.
Give your dog a once over to check for pain or irritation, and schedule a vet visit to confirm what’s going on.
Why do dogs howl when we leave?
Dog lovers know that every furry friend has unique attributes and personality quirks. Some may desire more attention than others or howl simply to complain.
Dog behaviour can be confusing, and it can help to remember that dogs see their human families as pack members.
Dogs form strong social bonds and would much prefer that everyone in the pack stick together.
Your dog’s howl before or after you head out the door may be a sign they are nervous about your leaving. It may be a way to call you back home or alert others to their lonely state.
For a dog that might tend toward nervousness and separation anxiety, it can feel like a big deal when a pack leader is leaving.
If you think your dog’s howling an attention or anxiety issue, read up on separation anxiety, and common treatments for anxiety in dogs.
If you believe the howling is a behavioural issue that requires more training, consult with a trusted dog trainer for tips about how to handle unwanted howling.
And of course, if your dog’s vocalizations aren’t excessive for you or an issue for the neighbours, you can always just take a video and enjoy.
Howling is in their nature, after all, and sometimes it’s so cute you can howl with laughter alongside them!