There are a number of key reasons why dogs howl. Many of these are natural and a way of communicating, others could be a sign of health issues that need addressing.
Howling can be a deeply ingrained behavior. A dog’s howl, similar to a wolf’s, is a long, drawn-out cry. As dogs are distantly related to wolves, the reasons why they howl may be similar. However, our domesticated canines have evolved and grown closer to humans, so the reasons they may have also evolved different reasons to display this behavior.
Here are several reasons your dog may howl:
In the wild, dogs and feral dogs that run as a pack may howl to signal to missing members of the pack to return. The dogs who remain howl to provide the location of their base, a kind of auditory signal that guides pack members back. Domestic dogs may see their human family as their pack. This may explain why your dog howls when you or a family member has been away from home.
Howling may signal to other dogs or intruders not to cross a boundary. It signals to others in the pack that there is a potential threat or that something has changed. At home, dogs may bark or howl when a stranger comes to the door, or a car pulls up on the driveway
Dogs may join in with members of the pack when they are howling to make the communication louder and more effective. This instinct may kick in when they hear a noise with a particular frequency. This is more commonly a high-frequency noise such as a siren, a musical instrument, or a machine noise. Some dogs may even join in with the radio or their owner singing. Don’t worry though, they are not critiquing your singing, just participating in the noise!
Dogs may howl to express fear, anxiety, or sadness. They may use this communication to signal their desire for comfort. Have you ever noticed your dog howls when they want attention? This is a learned behavior for some dogs – the more they howl, the more they get the attention they are craving.
The classic wolf-type pose with a dog extending their neck and tipping its head back to “howl at the moon” may be seen in some dogs. Others may manage to howl whilst adopting a more normal body position. We think that dogs extend their neck when they howl to straighten their vocal cords and make a louder noise. This posture may also mean the sound waves can travel further, therefore alerting more dogs. If you’d like to know more, we’ve covered some interesting German Shepherd facts in our other article.
Excessive howling in dogs may be a sign of separation anxiety, particularly if this behavior mainly occurs when your dog is left alone rather than in response to a particular noise or stimulus.
Dogs may also howl to express physical pain to let their pack, or their owners, know that they need attention.
Older dogs may howl more than younger dogs as they may get confused or have poor vision or hearing which means they react more to stimuli.
If you notice your dog is howling more than normal, or they are howling without an obvious trigger then get them checked by your vet to ensure they are healthy and pain-free. If your dog suddenly starts howling, especially if they rarely display this behavior, then they may be telling you they are sick or injured.
Howling is generally a normal behavior for dogs and for many, is probably infrequent enough that training is not necessary. However, if your dog’s singing is excessive, untimely, or unwanted then we can train them to reduce this behavior. The focus of training is to reward your dog’s good behavior, i.e. rewarding him with a treat when he stops howling. With time, a ‘stop’ command can be introduced and associated with the treat. Redirecting his behavior to something more desirable, such as picking up a toy when a stranger visits the house, can also be used if your dog howls.
Howling is a form of vocal communication used by German Shepherds. Dogs may howl to attract attention, make contact with others, or announce their presence. They may simply howl from instinct as it is a genetically linked behavior.
Whining and howling are both forms of vocal communication for dogs. They may display this behavior to seek attention when they are excited, anxious, or trying to communicate their needs to you. Sometimes it is a learned behavior – the more they whine and howl, the more attention they get.
Some dogs are happy when they howl. Howling can be used to express a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, or sadness. However, other dogs howl to ‘join in’ with a particular noise such as when music is playing or to get attention from their owners.
There is no specific reason dogs howl at night rather than in the daytime. Despite old fables, they are unlikely to be howling at the moon! The quiet of nighttime might mean they can detect high-frequency sounds more easily or can hear neighborhood dogs. They may also be howling to get your attention at night-time. If this is out of character for your dog, they may be signaling to you that they need something such as to go outside to toilet.
Your German Shepherd howling like a wolf can certainly be a great party piece. Not all dogs howl, but for those that do, it is a natural behavior. If you are concerned your dog is indicating distress when howling, then seek medical advice. As long as it is not disruptive or excessive, then let why not let them find their inner wolf (or popstar!) and howl away?