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What Does it Mean When a Dog Howls With You?

When your dog howls with you, it could be their way of helping you communicate with the “pack”. Dogs are pack animals, and howling is one of the many methods they use to communicate with the pack. When they hear you howling (or singing), they may howl to help the rest of the pack hear. 

Most people enjoy the majestic sound of wolves howling in the wild, calling out to their pack mates, or warning away other packs. It can be quite surprising when our own dogs suddenly start making the same sound. 

Domestic dogs don’t always have packs to communicate with, so we might wonder what their motivation is for howling.

Dogs don’t mind howling along to sounds made by humans, or even musical instruments, televisions, and radios!

It Helps to Understand Why Dogs Howl In The First Place

Howling is a behavior that goes all the way back to the times when your dog’s genetic ancestors ran wild in the forest. 

Wolves and other wild dogs often formed packs, groups of dogs that had a specific hierarchy and protected one another. They used howling as a means of communication within a pack or between packs. 

Wolves would howl to call out to check on the location of their pack members, who would howl back. 

Alternately, wolves would howl to show the boundary of their territory, warning away other packs. 

Even though most modern domesticated dogs don’t run in packs, this behavior is still part of their instincts. They often “assign” their owners or fellow pets as members of their pack.

In a domestic setting, dogs have developed a few other reasons for howling. Some dogs just want attention, and they find that a nice, exciting howl can bring their humans running. 

Certain stimuli like sirens, music, or even loud singing can trigger your dog to howl. He might be distressed and trying to warn the sound away, or he might enjoy having a nice sing-along.

The Breed Can Determine The Reason

Some people consider howling a cute behavior, while others are concerned about annoying the neighbors. Either way, people might wonder if their specific dog is likely to howl. 

Dogs are all capable of howling, but certain breeds are much more genetically prone to doing so. Other dogs might bark, whine, yelp, grunt, screech, or make many other unusual noises while excited.

Dogs that fall into the hound category are more likely to howl. This can include dogs of many sizes, from dachshunds and beagles to basset hounds and bloodhounds. 

Shetland Sheepdogs are another vocal breed. Huskies, malamutes, and Alaskan Eskimo dogs are also known to howl more frequently.

Some dogs use howling as a positive response, while others use it out of concern or loneliness. 

Someone with a very quiet dog might find out the hard way that their dog constantly howls while the human is away at work.

But Why Would Dogs Howl With Humans?

Dogs can sometimes surprise their owners by howling while the owner is singing, playing an instrument, listening to music or television, or making a howling sound themselves. 

Sirens can also trigger this behavior. Dogs are genetically primed to howl along with sounds that sound like another dog howling, and they are particularly excited to howl along with their human pack members.

Sad or Happy?

Howling can signal both positive and negative responses, and it’s hard to tell what your dog is feeling when he howls at you. Look at your dog’s other body language to determine if he loves your singing or if he is begging you to stop.

If your dog is acting excited, playing, and wagging his tail, that means he is probably delighted to be howling at you. 

If your dog’s behavior is neutral, he might simply be trying to communicate with you. If your dog is jumping up on you, yawning, whimpering, has his ears pulled back, or running away, this indicates a stress response. 

If your dog is reacting in this way, it might be better to take a break from the trigger noise rather than teasing him.

Medical Issues

If your dog suddenly howls without a clear reason or begins to howl constantly, consider contacting your vet. This is especially true if your dog shows any other symptoms of illness such as vomiting, lethargy, fever, limping, sensitivity to being touched, or significant mood and behavior changes such as aggression. 

It can be hard for a dog to express pain, and dogs can hide considerable amounts of pain, so it is important to watch for sudden behavior changes.

Separation Anxiety

Perhaps the most problematic and overwhelming reason for howling comes from separation anxiety. 

This behavior can appear suddenly, especially after a traumatic experience, or build up over time. The dog will cease to tolerate spending time alone and can panic, doing dangerous things to try to escape. 

Dogs with separation anxiety can constantly howl, destroy furniture, crates, doors, and even windows, chew on and injure themselves, and more. 

The howling, in this case, is particularly difficult for those living in apartments or other close-quarter homes. Simply going away for a few minutes can lead to a complaint from the neighbors.

Dealing with separation anxiety can be a long and complicated road. If you feel overwhelmed, your vet should have some great resources, along with a possible referral to a behaviorist. 

This training involves teaching your dog to be alone for a few seconds, then a few minutes, slowly building up the amount of time.

A great way to head off separation anxiety before it starts is to crate train your dog. Give your dog a roomy crate with a nice bed and some food and water. 

The goal is to make sure that your dog sees the crate as his home and goes there voluntarily. You can also practice putting your dog in the crate at night to sleep. 

If a dog loves his crate, he is more likely to feel calm when you put him there to go out of the house. This training should be undergone before the dog develops separation anxiety. 

Locking the dog in a crate is not a long-term solution for a dog with separation anxiety and can sometimes make it worse. If you are using the crate as part of the training.

Always provide adequate cool air and ventilation for your dog, and only use this as part of a long-term, sustainable plan for dealing with separation anxiety.

Getting Your Dog to Stop Howling

If you can determine a clear stimulus for your dog’s howling, such as a neighbor’s dog, a siren, or an instrument, the dog will probably stop howling on his own. If you avoid encouraging or hyping up the behavior, the dog is more likely to stop quickly. 

If the dog becomes obsessed with the trigger sound and won’t stop howling, desensitization training can help. 

First, try offering a treat or toy every time the sound appears, before your dog howls. You are rewarding the quiet behavior. You can even play a recording of the offending sound on your phone or computer to train more frequently. 

Another method that can help with barking and howling is to teach your dog the “speak” command. 

By teaching your dog to bark or howl on command, you gain control of the behavior. If your dog is not responding to basic training, this can indicate a sensitive or reactive emotional response to the sound. Your vet should be able to refer you to a professional behaviorist who can help.

Your dog’s first howl can be a fun surprise or an annoying concern. Keep in mind that howling is a very natural part of a dog’s behavior and usually expresses a positive emotion. If you don’t want your dog to howl, there are many productive training approaches to managing the behavior. Howling is usually a harmless behavior that dogs and humans can enjoy together.

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