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Dogs have many ways to communicate with each other and with people. They use body language to express emotions and intentions with other animals and people. They also have a wide arrange of vocals.
Whines and growls express excitement or discomfort, whereas barks can be the excitement of a warning. Once you get to know your dog and their personality, it will be much easier to decipher what their barks are trying to tell you.
Barking and whining are to be expected from dogs, but what about dogs that are extra vocal and love to howl as well? Specifically at the moon?
It is a classic image: a pack of wolves or dogs lifting their heads to sing and howl their praises to the moon. Many artists have tried to recreate it in film, literature, and paintings. But that is all it is, an image. Dogs and wolves are not howling at the moon, they simply like howling at night.
So why do we think dogs howl at the moon?
Dogs are not really howling at the moon, but they do like howling at night. It is quieter at night and their howls travel farther. Dogs that seem to be howling at the moon at night might be responding to other dogs, noises, or have separation anxiety.
While some breeds might be more likely to appear to howl at the moon than others, all dogs can howl. Howling is an inherited instinctual behavior. In this article we will take a look at the reasons that might cause your dog to howl, to howl at night, or if they are howling to let you know there is a problem or they want attention.
Do Dogs Really Howl At The Moon?
Despite the popular image, dogs and wolves are not howling at the moon, but rather howling because of a deep instinctual need to communicate. All dogs can howl, even if they do not know it. They inherited their howling instinct from wolves who have always used howling as a way to communicate with wolves within and outside of their pack.
However, though they might not be howling at the moon, dogs do seem to howl a lot more at night. These dogs certainly appear to be howling at the moon, but they are probably howling as a response to the whole pack howling.
This is because it is much quieter at night. In cities and neighborhoods, there are fewer cars and people making noise. Even in rural areas, creatures that make lots of noises like birds have gone to bed. With fewer ambient noises, dogs can hear and respond to each other’s howls far clearer. The sound simply travels better at night.
For what it is worth when the moon is exceptionally bright, there are probably more nocturnal creatures roaming around. They are also easier to see. If your dog seems to howl more during a full moon, it is possibly in response to these night-time critters, not howling at the moon.
Reason 1. They Are Responding To Other Dogs
There is a lot of information in dog vocalization. Besides expressing excitement or a warning, dogs can tell the age of another dog by its bark. So that begs the question, what kind of information does a howl share with other dogs?
In the wild, howling was meant to be a signal to let other members of the wolf pack know where they are. At night time, after a long day of scouting and hunting, the wolf or wolves left behind at the home base would signal by howling so the other pack members can find their way home.
Perhaps this is why it appears dogs howl at the moon because they are having to find their way home at night. Dogs still use this scouting instinct to get home and find each other.
They also howl to signal their territory and to keep other non-pack members out. Dogs who are protective of their owners will be more likely to howl when the moon is out to keep other dogs out of your yard or off of your property.
Reason 2. They Are Responding To Noises
Many noises are not other dogs that might trigger your dog to howl. One of these is sirens, whose high-pitched noise can be heard much better during the night, perhaps when the moon is out.
Often dogs will howl when they hear musical instruments, and they can probably hear someone playing a radio or practicing better at night when there is less ambient noise. Just look at this husky howling along with a piano in the video below.
The instinct of howling is so ingrained in some dogs that some will howl when you howl. Howling, like barking, is a unique form of communication that only dogs and other Canis species like wolves have. So when you howl to get them to howl, it is exciting for them to express themselves to you, and it is a neat way to bond with your dog.
You can even train a howling cue. My first dog was an Australian Shepherd who would howl every time he heard a particular popular pop song. Using positive reinforcement I trained him to howl when I sang the song to him, it was a great party trick!
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Anxious
One of the ways dogs communicate when they are upset, anxious, or nervous is to howl. For example, a dog who is regressing in their crate training is likely to frantically howl when they become stressed and cannot get out of their crate.
Furthermore, if your dog continues to howl when you leave them alone at night, they could be suffering from separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety is characterized by “being overly attached or dependent on family members.” Their anxiety from being alone manifests itself in destructive behaviors, accidents in the house, and extreme vocalizations like howling.
A dog howling when they are happy can be incredibly charming. However, a dog howling because of stress can be extraordinarily distressing, for you and your dog. An anxious howling dog can get caught in a loop where they cannot turn off their vocalizations until they get distracted, probably by you coming home.
A dog howling at the moon at night, because they have separation anxiety, is not only a problem for their health but can also cause problems with neighbors. Especially if you live in an apartment. If you are worried your dog is suffering separation anxiety, please reach out to a certified trainer or behaviorist in your area to help set up a training plan. For extreme cases, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication.
Reason 4. You Have Accidentally Reinforced Howling
Dogs are incredibly smart and easily pick up on patterns. If you have accidentally been reinforcing your dog howling at the moon or night, they might learn to continue doing it because they have learned that it gets you to pay attention to them.
For example, when your dog has to wake you up in the middle of the night to poop by howling, if they are smart they might learn that howling is a good way to get your attention for any scenario. Now when they are bored and want you to play at night, they might start howling at the moon to get your attention.
Like this dog, they might start howling and won’t stop until you pet them.
If you are having issues with your dog howling at the moon for your attention, the best thing to do is to ignore the behavior and take away the reward they are expecting.
This is called extinction, and it is a good solution to a lot of attention-seeking behaviors like howling and jumping. Just beware of an “extinction burst” where the behavior might increase in intensity once you take the reward away. The best thing is to continue ignoring your dog and eventually, they will realize you are no longer rewarding the behavior.
What Can I Do To Stop My Dog From Howling At The Moon (Or At Night)?
It is frustrating when our dogs do not seem to realize that nighttime is for sleeping. Whether they want to play in the middle of the night or are howling at the moon, there must be something you can do to get your dog to go back to sleep and wait until the morning.
We have already mentioned extinction, but that does not always work for every dog.
Some breeds like to sleep outside, but if they are howling all night while the moon is out, you should consider bringing them inside. They might be howling at nocturnal creatures, other dogs, or any bump in the night. It can be stressful for your dog to always be on guard all night long while the moon is out.
Crate training is a handy tool for keeping your dog from getting into things they shouldn’t and potty training. However, it also creates a safe space for your dog. A dog who has been properly introduced to the crate will be less likely to howl because they feel safe and secure.
Finally, if your dog is howling at the moon for attention, they might be bored. Try giving your dog more exercise and enrichment during the day. While some high-energy breeds like German Shepherds and Huskies would love to run a marathon with you every day, you do not have to tire your dog out with only exercise.
This video below shows you some low-cost “Do it yourself” ways to make food puzzle toys to give your dog mental stimulation.
Should I Be Worried?
We all know how dramatic dogs can be. Whether their howling at the moon is to get your attention or the attention of the dog next door, it can be over-the-top.
However, dogs do howl when they are not feeling well or injured. Much like other creatures who vocalize when they feel pain, dogs also whine, howl, growl, or bark when they are ill.
Injuries that might cause a dog to appear to howl at the moon include:
- Soft tissue or muscle injury
- Broken bones
- Upset stomach
- Bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)
Be aware that a dog howling at night or any time of day when they are in pain is more likely to be aggressive or try to nip or bite. This is an instinctual need to protect themselves because they are scared and nervous. Besides howling, they might excessively pant, try to hide, and lose their appetite. Normal activities like going for a walk will be harder for them when they are sick or injured.
If your dog is showing any of these signs or is limping or trembling, take them to the veterinarian right away and stay with them to comfort them.
While dogs may not be actually howling at the moon, they often make a lot of vocalizations during the night. At nighttime, dogs can hear each other clearer because of the lack of ambient noises. Dogs are probably letting other dogs know where they are, or letting strange dogs not come any closer. Howling at the moon seems to be a location signal for many dogs.
They can also hear high-pitched noises like sirens and musical instruments (or certain high-pitched pop songs) that might cause trigger them to howl in response. A smart dog might learn that if they howl, you will give them attention under the moonlit night.
Howling can be annoying but it is usually in response to noises. To stop the behavior, try ignoring them, bring them inside, or take away whatever is triggering their howling.
Furthermore, howling can be a sign that your dog has separation anxiety or is in pain. Howling is a way for dogs to communicate with us, and you should talk to your vet if you think they are trying to let you know they are not feeling well.
Generally though, unless it is stressing your dog out or creating a problem with neighbors, howling at the moon is not necessarily a bad behavior. Your dog might even want you to howl with them! If you are worried that is cruel to make your dog howl, do not worry, your dog probably enjoys it. Maybe the next full moon you two can go howl at the moon together.