A dog howling like a wolf can make some people uncomfortable. These vocal signals are, in fact, generally associated with something sinister, even a bad omen in the collective unconscious. But what is it really? What would push a dog to howl like a wolf? What is it trying to express?
Wolf-like howls are often in some dogs. They are fun when done by puppies, but sometimes disturbing when done by adult dogs, especially in the middle of the night.
As with any form of canine communication, it is important to understand the typical lupine howls displayed by dogs. It is not easy to decode the messages associated with it, but this understanding will allow you to get to know your 4-legged friend better.
Why do dogs howl?
A behavior inherited from the wolf ancestor
Howling is part of the behavior specific to wolves and inherited by our dogs. It is a form of social activity expressed through sound, a form of communication between members of a pack.
Wolves are, in fact, known for their vocation to come together and evolve in packs, with a hierarchy that is put in place and codes of communication accompanying the relationships between members of the group.
In the wild, the wolf will howl when lost, so as to signal its location to other members of its pack, who can then respond by howling in turn.
Howls are also territorial signals. They allow members of the pack to convey to potential rivals that they are in their territory.
Howls are therefore one of the basic forms of communication in wolves. They are a means of social interaction and reporting. This behavior has been transmitted in part to the domestic dog, but at a limited level.
Suffering from separation anxiety
If your dog has recently started to howl excessively or if neighbors report seeing distress in your dog while you were away, it may be a sign of separation anxiety.
Pets are social animals, and, like humans, they can feel lonely if left alone for long periods of time. If you suspect your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, typical signs of this situation may include pooping inside the house, destructive behavior, and even depression.
It is helpful to gradually get your pet used to being alone for long periods of time. In the meantime, finding a loving dog sitter for babysitting or daily walks can be a great way to make sure your dog gets the proper care and attention it needs when you are away from home.
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The dog is excited
Even if your dog doesn’t have separation anxiety, it can sometimes howl for attention or excitement. Your dog may start howling when you get home, or when it sees its leash or goes for a walk. These howls are a way for your dog to communicate with you.
It is important that you spend quality time with your pets, providing them with moments of play, exercise, cuddling, and play so that they are mentally and physically stimulated.
However, if you find that your dog howls and barks excessively, there are training responses that may be helpful. A simple technique is to physically turn away and refrain from touching or talking to the dog.
As soon as the howling/barking stops, give the dog a treat to set an example. This will teach the dog that the howling is not appreciated.
A stressing environment
You may also have noticed that your dog starts howling when in proximity to certain sounds such as sirens or high-pitched sounds in your local environment. Indeed, as pack animals, dogs are constantly assessing their surroundings and communicating with you, the leader. They do so to let you know that they can hear the sound and are ready to respond.
Over time, your dog will desensitize to the everyday sounds of its environment. However, if you feel that your dog is stressed out in certain environments, a short-term solution may be to distract them with fun games.
In the long run, it may also be helpful to expose your dog to these sounds in an environment where they feel safe with you, to help them overcome their anxiety or aggression. It’s not easy to do, it takes consistency and persistence, and you can seek advice from a licensed animal behaviorist.
The dog is dreaming
Like humans, dogs react physically to their dreams and can howl, bark, whine during an exciting dream. Therefore, don’t worry if your dog occasionally howls in its sleep. However, if you notice excessive anxiety or constant noises of fear or pain when your dog is sleeping, it may be helpful to see your local veterinarian.
Your dog is in extreme pain
Dogs are very resilient animals and rarely whine when in pain. However, extreme pain can cause a dog to howl incessantly. Diseases like arthritis, which causes a lot of pain for dogs, can trigger such howls.
Similar to crying in humans, howling is a way of expressing that pain. In this situation, immediately take your companion to the vet.
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Dementia caused by old age
Dogs, like people, can suffer cognitive issues as they age. For a dog, the effects of such can be extremely stressful and cause howling. If that is the case, avoid leaving your dog alone as much as possible and aid in moments of distress.
A medical issue
The last and most serious reason can be a medical problem. If your dog’s howling is constant and you’ve ruled out the other reasons above, you should definitely visit your vet for a checkup.
Excessive howling can be irritating, but usually, there is no cause for concern. The most essential thing is to attempt to figure out what’s causing the problem so you can make minor changes to the surroundings to relieve your pet’s tension.
If your dog howls, try to understand why it is behaving this way. In most cases, this behavior is just a holdover from your dog’s ancestral cousins. Wolves tend to howl to communicate with their pack and to strengthen their rank. Some behaviorists believe this is necessary and rewarding behavior for dogs.
However, howling can also be caused by distress and pain in your dog. You’ll need to pay close attention to your dog and the circumstances in which it howls. This will let you know if your dog is doing it naturally or if there is a need for some educational work to change its behavior or medical treatment from a vet.