The fact that howling is innate behaviour that dogs have from their ancestors – wolfs – is probably a well-known thing. Among wolfs, it is a natural way of communication which is necessary for survival. But what is the reason domesticated dogs still do that?
Let’s have a look at it from the basics and summarize all the reasons wolfs and wild dogs have for howling and match them with today’s world experience.
The first reason everybody probably assumes is calling the pack together or in other words the organization of the pack and its guiding. Members who are far away answer by howling to let the pack know about their location and both sides repeat that until they guide each other to the meeting point. That might be the reason why your dog howls when it is ate home alone or someone looks after it in an unfamiliar environment or with unfamiliar people. It calls its family and expresses sadness when they are not around.
However, howling also has the function of warning other pack members against danger – other dogs, for example. Therefore, it is a kind of a defensive mechanism. It sends the message to its pack telling “watch out” as well as intimidates the intruder. That might be the reason why your dog companion howls when it can hear a stranger behind the door or there is a strange dog walks alongside the fence. Howling also strengthens the bond in the pack and shows others the territory has already been taken.
However, this acoustic expression may also have simpler reasons. A dog companion might express its anxiety or frustration that you leave it at home alone again, you don’t pay enough attention to it and it feels lonely. It is a symptom of the separation anxiety.
By howling, a dog might only react to loud noises, it is a response to intensive and unexpected stimuli from the environment. It is often a dog’s reaction to sirens, sometimes even to singing or music. It is a response to what it thinks is its own or another pack. Also, a dog will react if it hears other dog’s howling.
Your dog might also use howling as a way to bring your attention to its injury or to the fact something hurts it. Another reason for howling might simply be happiness, it is the same way of expression as when people sing. Some breeds, such as huskies or malamutes, howl more often, it might be due to their stronger feeling for packs.
What about your dog companion, does it howl often or you haven’t heard it yet? And did you know you can even teach a dog to howl? It is used for hunting dogs to report prey, for example.