As most dog lovers know, our companions are descendants of wolves. Though they may look completely different these days and have changed dramatically over the years, their DNA is still pretty much the same as their wolf relatives.
Knowing this makes it a little easier to understand why our dogs do some of the things they do, like chasing small animals, digging, and that cute circling thing they do before lying down, for example.
Another thing that our dogs do as a result of their genetics is howling. While dog owners everywhere are mixed on their views of this perplexing practice, it’s a natural thing for our dogs to do. There are numerous reasons for dogs to howl, but at its core, howling is simply a form of communication.
For those of us who think our dog’s howling is cute, we wonder if it’s ok for us to join them. There are different schools of thought on this subject, with one side believing that it’s a cruel thing to do to a dog. The other side, however, believes it to be a form of bonding, an activity that a pack would normally do together in the wild.
So, what’s a dog lover to do? Is it ok for us to howl with your dog, or are you subjecting them to cruelty by doing so? This post will help you to clear up the question of whether or not it’s ok to howl with your dog.
Is it Ok to Howl with Your Dog?
So, is it ok to join in and howl along with your dog? The short answer: it depends. The long answer: maybe, but it’s important to find out the reason your dog is howling in the first place. Some howls are perfectly fine to “sing” along with, while others warrant more serious attention. Read along with me and we’ll uncover the answer to this age-old question:
Reasons Dogs Howl
Let’s start by decoding this mysterious behavior, so we can get a better idea of why our dogs do it in the first place:
Here I Am!
One of the reasons that dogs howl is to let their pack know where they are. In the wild, when the pack becomes separated, this is their preferred means of communication — a howl can be heard for long distances and the other pack members can pinpoint the location of the lone dog easily through a series of howls back and forth.
This can also happen when your dog hears a fire truck or other type of siren. He’s responding to the call, so to speak, letting the other “dog” know he heard them and giving them his location. This type of howling is the most adorable in my opinion, and I frequently join in when my dog does it — whether wrong or right it feels like we’re bonding to me!
Just Joining the Conversation
If you live in an area with even a handful of dog neighbors, you’ll likely hear them howling together from time to time. Dogs hear other dogs howling and voluntarily jump into the conversation; a canine way of saying “me too, neighbor!” This is very common in neighborhoods with large dog populations — it seems to be their preferred method of communication!
This goes for barking, too — when one dog barks it’s very common for any dogs within ear shot to start barking as well, starting up a whole flurry of barking dogs in the neighborhood. This is often confusing to us as we don’t understand why our dogs are barking, but our dogs’ hearing is four times more sensitive than ours — meaning they can hear plenty of things that we can’t.
I Need Attention
Another reason for howling is your pup wanting your attention. If you frequently leave him in the yard for long periods, he may be feeling a little neglected and resort to howling for the purpose of getting you to notice him. If you’ve left him home alone and he’s the anxious type, howling may be a way for him to feel closer to you until you return. You can offset this by spending more time with him, so he doesn’t feel so lonely.
If you’re annoyed by his howling, wait until he’s quiet before letting him in. The good news is, just five seconds of quiet is enough for his brain to forget that he was just howling, so you only need to wait a little while. I do this when my dog barks excessively because guests have arrived at my house — she gets put in the bedroom to calm down but once she’s quiet for five seconds she gets to rejoin the family as her reward.
There has been many a report that dogs howl when their owners pass away, whether they’re with them at the time or not. Howling is a form of expressing sadness sometimes, and it will be evident to you if your dog is doing this. Their howls will sound particularly heartbreaking, not like their normal neighborhood chat. Dogs that howl this way are mourning something and should be given attention and love to remind them that you’re there when they need you.
Another reason dogs howl this way is to vocalize that they’re in pain or feeling unwell. Most of us dog lovers know how well our dogs hide their pain — this is an instinctual act to not appear weak in the wild. However, there are times when they just can’t hide their discomfort anymore, and often this leads to howling for what seems like no reason. If your dog is suddenly howling more than he used to, or if it seems excessive and with no other obvious cause (other dogs howling, fire trucks passing, etc.), it’s a good idea to get him checked out at the vet.
So, Can You Howl with Your Dog?
Now that we’ve discovered the reasons for howling, let’s talk about whether it’s ok for you to join in. The basic principle here is what the reason is for your dog’s howl in the first place.
Response Howls: Yes
If she’s responding to a neighborhood call, fire truck siren, or otherwise seems in good spirits while howling, go ahead and join her! She sees you as her pack just as you see her as your family, so it’s a great way for the two of you to bond and share this communicative gesture together.
Some dog owners even begin the howl first when they hear the common noises that tend to make their dogs howl, inspiring their pups to join them. This is fine, especially if your dog usually responds in this way. Don’t be disheartened if your dog doesn’t join you — just wait for her the next time and join in then.
Attention/Sad Howls: No
If your dog is howling for attention, or is expressing sadness, pain, or feeling unwell, it’s probably not the best time to join them. They’re trying to tell you that something isn’t right and need more from you in these times than a singing partner. If your dog’s howling seems especially pitiful, figuring out the cause is your best course of action.
As stated above, spending more time with a lonely dog or getting him checked out at the vet if you think he’s in pain are better than howling back to him. While I’m sure he appreciates you joining his communication efforts most of the time, there are some cases where he just needs you to be his human and help him in the ways that he can’t help himself.