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Why Does My Dog Howl?

Has your dog ever howled at ambulance or firetruck sirens? Howling is a form of communication for dogs, much like barking or tail-wagging. But howling is often misunderstood by us humans, so we're diving deeper into the behavior here. We try to answer why dogs howl, what howling means and how to deal with an excessive howler:

What Is A Howl?

A howl differs from a bark in that it is a longer, more sustained noise rather than a short, repetitive shout. In addition, howls can vary in tone, with some dogs giving off a low-pitched howl while others give off higher-pitched ones. But the most distinctive feature of a howl is the sustained length of noise. 

Pro Tip: Baying is a unique type of howl that is a deep and extended low noise. Not every dog bays - most of the dogs who do so are hunting dogs (like hounds) who were bred to use it to indicate when they've found something. 

Why Do Dogs Howl?

The simple answer to this question is that dogs howl to communicate something. What exactly are they trying to communicate? That depends on the type of howl, which varies based on the sound and situation. Here are some of the more common reasons that dogs howl:

  1. Injury - Some dogs howl to tell you they're in pain. These howls are often high-pitched and used as a cry for help when injured.
  2. Anxiety or fear - Most dogs howl to express anxiety, stress or fear. This could be a cry for help but is usually just an expression of the situation they're in and the feelings they're having. Dogs with anxious or timid personalities tend to frequently howl out of anxiety or fear.
  3. Attention or boredom - Some dogs howl as a way to get your attention or relieve boredom. Typically, dogs who howl or bark excessively aren't getting enough mental and physical stimulation.
  4. Point something out - Some dogs howl to tell you look at something or to alert you of something. This howl can be longer and higher-pitched or shorter and inquisitive.
  5. Alerting you of their location - Some dogs howl as a way to tell you where they are. Even if you already know where your dog is, he or she doesn't realize that and wants to helpfully remind you.

How Do You Stop Excessive Howling?

If your dogs howls often, it can be an inconvenience or disruption and you may want to try to stop the behavior. To do that, you'll want to first figure out why your dog is howling so you can address the root cause. In the meantime, here are some ways to deal with excessive howling:

  • Reward your dog for being quiet - This will associate positive things with being quiet, teaching your dog that being quiet is worthwhile and a better way to get what they want.
  • Ignore attention-seeking howls - It's tough but important to ignore your dog when he or she is howling for attention. Doing so will teach your dog that howling will not get him or her the attention they desire.
  • Exercise your dog and his or her mind - Dogs who howl, especially for attention, usually aren't getting enough activity or mental stimulation. Providing that physical exercise and mental stimulation (through brain games, for instance) can help reduce problem howling.
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