Like humans, dogs too have different forms of communication. They use a variety of sounds to express their needs or desires. These include barking, whining, growling or howling. Dog howling is believed to be trait that has been passed down from the wolf family.
When wolves wake up in the morning, they howl to other wolves. Apparently their morning howl is a way of sending a ‘good morning’ greeting to other wolves who in turn also howl. This method of communication is mostly seen among street dogs or dogs at an animal shelter. Howling is not very common among domestic dogs.
Traditionally, people thought that the howling of dogs was a sign of impending tragedy. Or that the dog was trying to gather evil spirits around it. It was also believed to be a ‘reaper’ of soul. This particular superstition has been around for years and in some parts of the world, they use it to predict death. So whenever a dog howled, it would put everyone around it in a fit of apprehension. People would be watchful for days and when someone does die then his/her death is attributed to the howling of the dog. However, scientists have yet to find any basis supporting these beliefs.
Although researchers admit that the exact reasons why dogs howl is still a mystery, they have found a number of things that explain the different circumstances that make dogs howl. There is no one definite reason why a dog howls.
Dogs often howl:
1. To attract attention: Domestic dogs howl to call their owner to attend to their needs. It might be because they are hungry, bored, need their toys to play with or simply want to be their owner to pet and play with them. It has also been noted that small dogs do the same with their parent dog. They whine and howl when they feel bored or uncared for.
2. To respond to other sounds: The reason for this has not yet been confirmed but it is thought that dogs howl because they perceive many environmental sounds and commotions as howling. These include music, sirens of ambulance, fire brigade truck, sudden change in surrounding and many others. Any high-pitched sound could make a dog howl. Some people argue that when dogs howl immediately after hearing music then it might be an expression of happiness and joy. They could be trying to sing along to the tune of the music.
3. To express sadness or anxiety: When dog owners leave for work, their dogs notice their absence. And they start feeling alone and left. This could make them very nervous. So they start conveying these emotions of loneliness by howling in the hope that their owner will hear them and come home to be with them. A grieving dog will also howl to express sadness for the loss of its owner. This has been termed in psychology as the condition of separation anxiety.
4. When they are hurt or sick: When dogs are in pain they howl to call for help. They do this to alert their owner that they have been injured. This goes for illnesses as well. If a dog is experiencing discomfort or cramping, they howl so they can be attended to. They also expect their owner to take them to a vet to get checked.
5. To guide their pack: At the end of the day, a dog would howl to other dogs letting them know where they are supposed to go. Home is where they all come together to sleep. So the other dogs follow the sound of the howl and return to their home. They do the same with their owner, when it is about time for the owner to come home, they howl to guide them to the house.
6. To Warn their pack: When dogs enter a place that they are not allowed to, they howl to tell their pack that they are in unwelcomed territory and should be ready and prepared for possible predators, threats or other encounters. This signal is normally given by the first dog which enters the forbidden territory. Dogs also howl when the surrounding suddenly changes warning their pack to flee or take heed.
7. To alert you to something they found: It is not only on CSI-Miami that dogs are used to sniff out corpses. Pet dogs can be very useful at helping you find things. Howling is the form of communication they use to bring you to see their discovery or to show you what they have caught.
8. To contact their pack: Sometimes dogs howl to know each other’s location. This has been seen when dogs go hunting. Their howling pitch is different from their other reasons of howling. When hunting, their howl is high pitched first then followed by another howl and after that a bark. They use this form of communication especially when they are nearing a kill.