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Barking vs. Howling: 6 Reasons Your Dog Howls

Dog howling outside


Barking and howling are common vocalizations dogs use to communicate with each other and their human parents. Your dog might howl to tell you danger’s nearby, because they feel lonely, or they’re begging for a treat. But if your dog is usually on the quiet side and starts howling for no apparent reason, it’s worth taking a trip to the vet to make sure nothing’s wrong.

What’s the Difference Between Howling and Barking?

It’s easy to recognize a howl from a bark. A bark is quick and explosive, while a howl delivers a more sustained vocalization. But what are the differences between barking and howling? Why do dogs do one instead of the other?

Reasons Dogs Bark

Your dog barks to communicate. They use various barks to express their feelings, signal to fellow pups, or get your attention. Your dog might bark in response to a strange sound or familiar stimuli, like a doorbell ring or thunder.

Barking is a normal part of being a dog, but if your dog barks excessively, there could be more to it. Your pup could feel anxious, understimulated, or have an underlying problem.

Working with a trainer to pinpoint the root cause of your pup’s constant barking and resolve the issue is an excellent first step. But in some cases, you might also need to consult with your vet in case something bigger is at play.

Reasons Dogs Howl

Some dog breeds howl more than others, like bloodhounds and beagles. But all dogs howl as a way to communicate. It stems from their natural instincts, going all the way back to their wild wolf cousins. The primary reasons your dog howls are:

  • They’re reacting to a sound.
  • Your dog is recognizing other dogs.
  • They’re trying to alert you to possible danger.
  • Your dog doesn’t like being alone.
  • They’re asking you for something.
  • Your pup is hurt, or something is bothering them.

To better understand why your dog is howling, take a closer look at each reason.

1. Your dog hears something and starts to howl.

Does your dog start howling when you play certain music or when they hear a police car siren race down the street? These high-pitched sounds can affect your dog in different ways. Certain high-frequency sounds might hurt your pup’s ears. However, these loud noises also tap into your dog’s natural instinct.

Your dog is letting you and anyone else in the area know they heard the sound and are ready to react if necessary. If your dog is howling because of something they hear, then when the sound stops, so should your pup’s howling.

2. Your dog is communicating with other nearby dogs.

Wolves howled in the wild to communicate with members of their pack that might be farther away. A long-distance howl is a way to let other dogs know where they are. It could also be a way to let others know they are nearby to avoid any potential conflict.

3. A howl can be your dog’s alarm system.

Your dog might howl if they sense something dangerous nearby. They’re trying to alert you to the potential problem and also possibly send a warning to the assumed danger to stay away. For example, does your dog start to howl when they see strangers walking in front of your home? 

It could simply be somebody going for a walk, passing by your house. But your dog considers it a potential threat and starts to howl to let you know, “Hey, someone is out here.” They’re also telling anyone who might come close, “Watch out. I am here. And I will protect my home.”

4. Your dog is dealing with separation anxiety.

If your dog lets out a mournful howl whenever you’re gone, they could be dealing with separation anxiety. This cause can be harder to pinpoint at first since it happens when you’re away. You might need to check in with your neighbors to find out more about the frequency of your pup’s howling.

Another option is to use a dog camera, like the Furbo, to monitor your pup when you’re gone. You’d likely also notice other signs, such as pacing, scratching, or returning home to potty accidents or ripped-up cushions.

If your dog struggles when you’re away, you can do a few things to help. Before leaving, take your dog for a walk, have a play session, and give them opportunities to burn up some excess energy. 

Read up on helping your pup deal with separation anxiety if you think this could be the root of your pup’s howling.

5. Your dog howls when they want something.

Like a toddler saying, “Pleeeeeassssse, I want one!” over and over again, a dog can howl to get what they want. It could be a treat, your attention, or their favorite toy, but they will howl and howl until you give in. Although it can be tough to listen to, your best bet is to avoid giving in to your pup’s demands.

Instead, don’t acknowledge them until they take a quick break from their howling. Then you can jump in with attention in this moment of silence to help them recognize the preferred behavior.

6. Your dog is telling you that something is bothering them.

If your dog’s howling is uncharacteristic for them or comes on suddenly and for no apparent reason, something could be bothering them. Your dog could have an injury or not feel well. If your pup starts up suddenly with high-pitched howls, give them a quick check for any potential physical injuries.

However, in this situation, a trip to the vet is your number one priority. Your vet can thoroughly examine your dog and rule out any potentially serious underlying issues. If they discover something, they can help your pet and guide you in the right direction regarding what to do next.

Dog howling outside

Is My Dog’s Howling a Problem?

If your dog’s howling is occasional and has an obvious reason (they’re responding to a police siren), there isn’t a reason to worry. But your dog’s howling can become an issue if it’s excessive. For example, the howling focuses on things that aren’t a danger, for example, the mail delivery or your best friend stopping by for coffee.

It’s important to desensitize your pup to these types of normal activities to help them stop howling. However, behavioral issues can be challenging to deal with, especially if they are deeply ingrained. It’s worth finding a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) to work with you and your dog to overcome these obstacles.

Sometimes, your dog’s excessive howling can be out of boredom. Make sure to spend time with your pup, take them for walks, and ensure they get adequate physical and mental stimulation. Ignore their howls for attention and reward them for being quiet. You can also reach out to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) to offer guidance or ask your vet for recommendations.

What’s All the Howling About?

Barking and howling are common dog vocalizations that your pup uses to communicate. Your dog can howl to signal other dogs, alert you to danger, ask for something, or because they’re feeling lonely. But anytime your dog starts doing something out of the ordinary, like howling more than usual or for no obvious reason, it’s worth looking into. 

Check with your vet to rule out underlying issues. If you need help with your dog’s excessive howling, finding the right trainer to lend a hand makes a huge difference.

For even more helpful resources, check out the Neater Pets blog to learn more about why your canine companion does the doggy things they do.



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