Often times the bane of many dog owners is the howling in the middle of the night. Whether it’s because it keeps them up or because it keeps their neighbors up, it doesn’t matter. It’s something that doesn’t entirely make sense and frustrates us. So why do they do it? They don’t do it just to keep everyone up, that’s for sure.
The reasoning for howling has it’s myths surrounding it: anywhere from meaning that the reaper has come and someone is about to die, to a warning of evil spirits. Its the long, melodious tone that can’t quite be reproduced that causes these myths to form. Whether you believe the superstitions or not, there are actually real reasons that dogs howl.
The behavior is seen in wolves most commonly; along with whining, barking, and growling. Howling is a form of communication. It’s actually their longest distance form of communication. Wolves howl for their pack when they are separated, or there is food, or a multitude of other reasons. Dogs can be heard howling in the night. Either that or barking if the other dog is close enough.
What started this behavior? Howling began early in the canine evolution. While barking can carry across a decent amount of space, it has it’s limitations, and due to it’s sharper, shorter note, it can easily echo or get lost over a distance. Howls are drawn out and melodious, and they carry a far greater distance than a bark.
In the wild, a pack of wolves must be in almost constant communication. Going a day without hearing from a pack mate is usually bad news. Even a couple of hours could be dangerous. So while everyone is hunting, or venturing away from the pack, howling is sometimes their only form of communication.
Howling is a means of locating the other members of the pack. This is especially important during a storm, or when they are in unfamiliar territory. It is also used often during hunting. The howl that is used during hunting is usually at a higher pitch to communicate the difference. It’s followed by another howl and a bark when they are getting closer to a kill.
One of the most interesting things about a howl is that wolves will harmonize, making it sound like there are more wolves than there are. They also rarely howl in another pack’s territory. Sometimes wolves don’t even respond to howls at all, often times when they are full, or during rainy weather.
It is also very common for wolves to howl at one another when they first wake up, to which the other wolves will respond to. Similar to a ‘Good Morning’. Even wolves not of that pack will howl in response. And each wolf’s howl is different, much like each human’s voice is different, so the pack would easily recognize a stranger.
Howling is far less common in domesticated dogs than it is in wolves, but it still does happen. Dogs inherited this trait more for locating others in their pack rather than hunting. While the behavior is seen in hunting dogs during a hunt, it is far more common for them to howl to say “I’m here, where are you?” or “I’m lost.” They’re really just talking to the other dog.
A common reason domesticated dogs howl is because of separation anxiety or boredom. Since howling is largely a way for them to locate their pack, they may howl for you when you are gone, trying to find you. They want you, or another member of their pack, to come to them. Whether just to be there or because they want to play, the message is the same.
It is an instinctive behavior, so it’s also common to see dogs howling at a police, ambulance or fire truck siren, as well as occasionally at the TV. If they hear something that sounds like a howl to them, they will respond with a howl of their own. Even sometimes instruments or singing will cause a dog to howl; that doesn’t necessarily mean the music is bad, but the tone sounds enough like a howl to kick their instincts into gear. It’s cases like these that indicate that sometimes howling can be a sign of happiness. Similar to a human singing loudly, the dog is communicating it’s joy to you or other pack-mates.
There are many reasons a dog howls. Few of them are actually bad, unless you’re the superstitious type. Whether your dog is wondering where you are, or trying to locate another dog, or perhaps even trying to join in on the fun, dogs will always howl. It’s one of their base instincts, inherited from their wolf ancestors who would use it to find each other and to tell the rest of the pack when there is hunting to do.