7 Reasons Why Dogs Howl and What You Can Do About It

Howling can be a cute, quirky behavior, until it becomes nonstop. And getting your dog’s howling under control isn’t always an easy task. The best way to prevent or stop this behavior is to know what causes or exacerbates howling; a dog may howl for a variety of reasons, and there are some instances of howling that can be minimalized, while others can be stopped entirely.

Pain or Illness

If a dog is hurt, he can’t tell you like a person would. Instead, his instinct is to howl because the noise will draw your attention. Your dog may also howl to alert other dogs to its injury, thus letting them know he needs extra support. Regardless, he’s howling because he needs help, and it’s up to you to figure out why.

Pain that causes howling can be physical, like an injured paw or loss of vision. However, it can also be emotional; for instance, if a dog is experiencing general anxiety from age-related body changes, he will likely howl to show his discomfort. When a dog howls due to pain, he will usually show other signs of distress, and the howl usually sounds more like a shriek. The easiest way to treat this howling is by treating the pain that caused it.

If your dog is howling and you can’t find a reason, take him to your vet to make sure something internal isn’t at work. Your vet should be able to diagnose the problem and provide a program of care, which will stop the howling and leave your dog feeling much better.

Breed Quirks

Some dogs simply howl more than others. My Beagle, Camper, is one of those dogs. Other breeds include Alaskan Malamutes, Huskies, Coonhounds, and Basset Hounds. Some of these dogs have a distinctive “baying” howl.

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Camper may look cute and innocent here, but just wait… I sense a howl coming. 

It’s not so strange that these specific breeds howl more. Many of them were bred as hunting dogs, and they’d howl when they caught a raccoon or fox to let their humans know where to find them. Others simply share more qualities with their wolf ancestors, who used howling as a means of communication.

Separation Anxiety 

Some dogs primarily howl when their owners are away (you might not even be aware that your dog does this until a neighbor tells you). In this case, your dog is likely howling due to separation anxiety. This type of howling is similar to age-related anxiety, since the root of the problem lies in your dog feeling scared or lonely.

If your dog is howling due to separation anxiety, he’ll likely show other symptoms. Pacing, accidents, and general destruction are all further proof of your dog’s anxiety, and it’s worth researching ways to help your dog cope.

If your dog develops separation anxiety and begins howling, you have two options. First, you can try spending more time with him or bringing him along on your dog-friendly outings. Of course, this option isn’t always feasible, and your dog will still howl when you need to leave him at home. A better option is to provide your dog with plenty of toys and treats to keep his attention when you’re away. If he’s engaged with a toy, he’ll be distracted, and he might not even notice you’re gone until you come back.

Sound Triggers

Have you ever noticed your dog howling after hearing a siren? What about when you’re playing an instrument? In this case, the howling is in response to a loud, unexpected noise. This noise might frighten or make him anxious, and whenever he hears it, he’s likely to howl again.

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Camper’s howl-face, mere moments before he started baying. 

In order to curb this behavior, you can use counterconditioning and systematic desensitization. The former involves rewarding your dog with praise or a treat whenever they hear the sound, thus showing them it isn’t scary. Relatedly, desensitization involves gradually introducing your pup to the upsetting sound until, over time, they’re no longer bothered by it. A trained professional can help with this process, which can easily go wrong if you introduce the sound too quickly or inconsistently.

Communication with Other Dogs

A dog’s howl can be heard for miles, making it an effective means of communication with other dogs. In fact, when a dog responds to a siren, they’re not always anxious–sometimes, they simply think it’s another dog. In this case, they might howl to warn other dogs not to intrude upon their space or to invite other dogs to come join them. Similar to when they hear a siren, the best way to stop this behavior is through desensitization or counterconditioning. By hearing the sound at controlled levels and times, they’ll stop noticing it as often.

Notice how Camper starts howling after Buddy starts barking, and he only stops when Buddy comes toward him.


If a dog is scared or in a new situation, chances are they’re going to howl. This type of howl is meant as a warning to would-be attackers–”Stay away,” or “I don’t want any trouble!” It’s important to figure out the difference between these two howls, however, because one of them is an issue with trust and the other is an issue with confidence.

There are several ways you can help your dog deal with these fears, and the most important tip is to practice patience. If you know your dog howls at other dogs, take proactive measures and walk on the other side of the road. If he howls at new people, allow him time to sniff those people until he’s comfortable around them. And always make sure to reward your dog when he stops howling–as you raise your dog’s confidence and trust through positive reinforcement, his howling will diminish, or even go away completely.

Human Attention

Even negative attention can be seen as a positive to dogs. When they howl and their owner yells at them to quiet down, a dog will consider the howling successful. Puppies tend to howl even more than adult dogs for the same reason. They might be trying to tell their human where they are or let them know they need something. Similar to how babies cry in order to be fed or held, puppies howl in order to get their human’s attention.

In order to stop this behavior, your best bet is to try ignoring it. If a dog howls and gets no reaction, they’ll learn that you won’t respond to that behavior. Additionally, try rewarding your pup when he’s quiet, either with praise or a treat–by ignoring the bad behaviors and rewarding the good ones, your dog will learn which behaviors are acceptable.

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An example of Camper’s “give me attention” face. And yes, it directly preceded a howl. 

Dog howling can be a sign of pain, anxiety, or danger. It can also be a means of communication or a quirky behavior for specific breeds. However, howling can quickly become a problem if your dog howls every time he wants attention or every time you leave home. Make sure to check that an underlying medical condition isn’t at play, and always research different breeds before adopting. There are several ways to help your dog with his howling, but you have to know why he’s howling before you can find a solution.

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