Why do dogs howl?

Answering the question

As you probably already know, dogs are the descendants of wolves. A few thousand years of artificial selection has turned the mighty wolves of legend into cuddly poodles.

In evolutionary terms, this is a blink of an eye. So while dogs may look different (and act differently) to wolves, they still have many of the character traits that their wild cousins have.

One of these traits is howling. In the wild, it was used to communicate with the pack over long distances (which was very useful for the wolves).

However, howling provides no benefit to a modern domesticated dog. It does nothing more than annoy the dog’s owner, and probably their neighbors too. So why do dogs howl?

Why do dogs howl?

It’s important to note that not all dogs howl. That said, some are seemingly unable to stop. Today I’m going to take a look at two of the most common reasons that dogs howl, and give you one or two tips on how to get them to stop.

Let’s get started.

Separation howling

As I just mentioned, howling in the wild is a way for a pack of wolves to communicate with each other over long distances. Sometimes when dogs have a little anxiety and are left alone they get scared and their howling instincts kick in.

A dog is howling when they’re left alone because they’re trying to let you know their location (so you can find your way back to it). Of course, this doesn’t work, but the dog doesn’t know that.

How to stop separation howling

Separation howling is difficult to eradicate if your dog is already fully grown, but it’s not impossible.

The first mistake many people make is to punish their dog when it howls. This does nothing to help the anxiety that is causing the howling, and often times it makes the howling worse.

The most effective method is to positively reinforce your dog with a treat of some kind. This could be something like an extra special toy, or a long lasting bone with marrow inside it.

Give it to the dog just before you leave the house, and take it away when you return. The dog will associate you being gone with treats and toys. This in makes the dog being left alone an enjoyable experience rather than one that produces anxiety (and howling).

Noise stimulation

Over the years of selective breeding, we bred dogs that had specific qualities that were beneficial to early humans.

One of the main benefits dogs provided to these early hunter-gatherers was security. The dark night of pre-civilization was a dangerous place, and a dog’s keen sense of sight and smell was almost indispensable.

They were trained and bred to react to the smallest sounds and any potential danger. When danger was detected we wanted our dogs to be as loud and noisy as possible to wake the rest of the tribe to deal with the threat.

We still want this trait in our dogs to some extent; many people get a dog for the additional security they provide. But some dogs are a little too “effective” for the modern world, and all manner of man-made noises can trigger the howling reflex. These things can be anything like a fire engine siren, loud music, or other dogs howling.

How to stop noise stimulation howling

There are a few ways that people claim to be able to stop this behavior, but the easiest and most effective method is to use a humane shock collar. These devices do not shock the dog with electricity, instead, they contain a citronella solution (which dogs hate).

These sonically activated collars are designed to spray the dog gently whenever it howls. Dogs will learn the association between howling and the spray very quickly, and you should be able to remove the collar within a matter of weeks.

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