Howling in Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 13, 2023
4 min read

Howling is your dog’s way of communicating with you and the world. They howl to get attention, make contact with other dogs, and announce their presence. Howling is instinctual and can be natural or triggered by an underlying problem. Some dogs respond to high-pitched sounds like emergency sirens or musical instruments by howling. Excessive howling can be a sign that your dog is in trouble. 

There could be a variety of reasons that your dog is howling. Howling can be a symptom of separation anxiety. Your neighbors may complain of excessive howling while you’re away or at work. If your dog is left alone or away from their owner, they may also pace constantly, have destructive behavior, soil the house, or have depression. 

Acting out because of separation anxiety should not be punished harshly. Instead, identify the problem and make arrangements for your dog to feel safe and secure in their home. If your dog has separation anxiety, they are constantly in distress while they are alone. This could be triggered by one person leaving them or spending too much time outside away from the family. 

There may be a medical reason behind your dog's howl. If your dog suddenly starts howling frequently, that may be them telling you they’re hurt or sick. Look for signs or causes of your dog's distress. If you can't find anything you should schedule a visit to the vet to rule out illness or injury. 

Howling in response to sounds. If your dog howls when they hear a high-pitch sound from an emergency vehicle, they are telling everyone that they hear the sound and are ready to respond. It’s their instinctual way to say that they’re aware of their surroundings.

Desensitization and counterconditioning. If the howling is based on how your dog feels about a situation you’ll need to change their motivation and feelings. This isn’t easy to do but can be accomplished through consistency and perseverance. 

Desensitization and counterconditioning are common treatments for fears, anxiety, phobias, and aggression. The goal is to get your dog to change their mind or feelings about a certain trigger. If you are having trouble with the treatment, a licensed Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a Veterinary Behaviorist (ACVB boarded).can assist you.  

If your dog howls, whines, or barks to get your attention. Some dogs will pick up on the fact that they can get your attention by howling. They may be trying to alert you to perceived danger, or just get you to fill their food bowl. Either way, they are trying to communicate with you. It may seem cute at first, but when it persists you may need to train them to redirect their intentions. 

Persistent howling can be annoying to you and your neighbors. Try to ignore your dog’s attention-seeking howl and make them feel invisible. This technique tells your dog that their howling doesn't work. Another training tactic is to reward quiet behavior. When your dog is being well-behaved and not responding to outside sounds or triggers give them a treat or special toy. It’s difficult to notice your dog doing nothing, but rewarding this behavior shows them the right way to get your attention. 

It may also be helpful to teach your dog to make sounds when you ask them to. For instance, you can train your dog to bark or howl when you say, "Speak!" and to quiet down when you say "Quiet!" Offer your dog praise when they obey your commands, slowly adjusting your standards to push them to stay quiet for longer stretches of time before you give them a treat. 

Spend time with your dog. Excessive howling may indicate that your dog is lonely. Dogs are man's best friend because they are social, just like us! If your dog is left alone for many hours, they may get anxious and sad. When you return home, give your dog plenty of love and attention. Take them on walks, work on tricks or training, and let them spend more quality time with you indoors. Playing with them strengthens your bond and alleviates their stress.

Finding help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) if you can't get your dog’s howling under control. If you think your dog is reacting to strangers, other dogs, or family members in a negative way, it may be time to contact a specialist. They can assist you in finding the right treatment for your dog's howling.