You wake to the sound of your dog howling in the middle of the night. Is it a full moon? Nope, 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. To many dogs, it’s just a standard method of communication.
The Impact of Ancestry
Just like humans doing the wave at a football game, dogs howling can simply be part of ancestral fervor as they join in on the neighborhood chorus. Sometimes it might be an autonomic response, hearkening back to the lineage they share with wolves. One dog can start it, and if a neighbor hears it, the spread can cover a lot of territory! Most of us have been privy to at least one infectious occasion of dog howls. Unlike in spooky movies, it doesn’t indicate something horrible is happening.
Dogs howl together to:
- Warn off predators encroaching on territory, you know, like the mailman.
- 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 and beagles are bred to intensify this instinct.
Done right, howling can accomplish many functions simultaneously. Ultimately it’s a bonding activity.
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? Someone in trouble? Does it 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.
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. Dogs howl to help their pack find them, just as they howl to help bring stray pack members home safe.
Unusual vocalization may be a sign of discomfort. Give your dog a once over to check for pain or irritation, and schedule a vet visit to confirm what’s going on.
Of course, 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. If it’s an attention or anxiety issue, read up on separation anxiety, and common treatments for anxiety in dogs.
If your dog’s vocalizations aren’t excessive for you or an issue for the neighbors,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!