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Ask AKC: Why Dogs Howl

American Kennel Club, Inc. (c) 2011

Dear Lisa: Why do dogs howl? I had never heard my 2-year-old Miniature Poodle do so until one night when he was in the car with me and the window was down. The sirens of several emergency vehicles were sounding, and he let out a long howl. He has never done it since even though we have heard sirens many times. --Howling Hound
If you think about the origins of the domestic dog, a single wolf approximately 15,000 years ago, it makes sense that dogs do howl, as do wolves and coyotes. One theory is that the dog that howls for long periods of time is either bored or lonely. Another suggests they are searching for another canine or providing a location to a far away pack member. The howl is considered to be a long distance doggie telephone call since the long drawn-out sound can travel for distances of several miles thus alerting other dogs to their location or needs.

Most often today dogs howl when they hear other sounds that they perceive is a canine calling card such as a siren at a nearby firehouse. Perhaps the more recent sirens just didn't have the right pitch to kick in that ancient instinct to howl in your Poodle like the time in the car. I first observed one of my Norwegian Elkhounds howling because of the siren too. Howling is just another way dogs communicate with each other, just like dogs have different types of barking to communicate multiples needs. There is the "I'm happy to see you" bark, the "stranger in the yard" alert bark, the "I have to go outside to relive myself" bark, and so on.

Besides the howl and the bark, let's not forget the "bay." As a hound owner and neighbor to several Beagles I'm quite familiar with the bay, which can be described as a sounding alarm that quarry is near or in sight. I love to read the dictionary and I came across these three definitions in Merriam-Webster's which really sums up the differences between canine communication nicely:

Howl: to utter or emit a loud sustained doleful sound or outcry characteristic of dogs and wolves
Bark: of a dog : to emit or utter its characteristic short loud explosive cry
Bay: of a dog : to bark (as at a thief or at the game that is pursued) especially with deep prolonged tones

So whether your dog is howling for friends, barking for fun or baying during the hunt, it's not so important to ask why they are doing it, but rather to listen what your dog is trying to tell you. Woo-woo!

 

If you have a question, send it to Lisa at lxp@akc.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.