Sure, it’s hilarious when you play music and your pup starts howling along to the tune. But it’s less funny at three o’clock in the morning. Or if it gets so loud that your neighbors complain. Howling is a bit of a mystery—even to dog behavior experts—but they do know that it’s connected to pups' wolf cousins. While evolution has separated the two, domestic dogs and wolves still have a lot in common, explains Annie Grossman, owner and co-founder of School For The Dogs. She helps explain why pups express themselves this way, and what humans can do to curb their howling enthusiasm:
Why do pups howl?
Certain breeds like beagles, huskies, and malamutes are prone to howling. But one explanation for other dogs is that they enjoy feeling like a part of a pack. “There are a lot of dogs that howl when they hear something that sounds like howling,” says Grossman. “So a siren, music, or if you make a howling sound can trigger a response. It’s so innate that it can be triggered by anything howl-like.”
But when your dog doesn’t normally howl and starts all of sudden, it might be worth taking them to the vet. “If your dog is doing something out of the ordinary and there’s no clear explanation, it’s a good idea to have a full medical work up,” advises Grossman. “They can’t tell us about pain so sometimes changes in behavior are an indication of physical discomfort.” If your dog struggles with separation anxiety when you leave, howling can also be a way they express their stress and displeasure, Grossman explains.
So how can you stop it?
Minimize the trigger
If your pup is howling because he’s hearing something that triggers it, minimize the noise. “If it’s a noise in the hallway, see if a white noise machine would help and put a draft stopper under the door to deaden the sound,” says Grossman. “Classical music can also help!” In fact, recent research found that songs that resemble classic human lullabies can help calm dogs down.
Tire them out
A tired dog is a happy dog. “Make sure your pup is getting a lot of enrichment where they’re getting their heart rate up. So play with your dog, go for walks, and give them problem solving toys,” says Grossman. Being engaged and content will make pups less likely to howl out loud! Stuck inside? Get creative to burn off their energy in a small space.
Teach howling on cue
Another training trick is teaching your dog to howl on cue—and then never give the dog the cue. “So if you know a song makes them howl, play that, then reward the behavior,” says Grossman. “Eventually the cue will be a signal that they get a reward. Then you can cue it at appropriate moments." Or not at all!
Howl with your pup
For dogs seeking that feeling of community, you can howl with them (only true pet parents would do this!) “It helps to satiate that communal longing they’re feeling," says Grossman. Another trick? "Acknowledge your pup’s howling and thank them for alerting you by rewarding them with a treat like peanut butter— which will make it hard for them to keep howling."