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An old pro at the animal shelter I volunteer at gave me a great piece of advice when getting to know a dog: the howl test.
Very simply, he’d greet the dog and get them relaxed, and then he’d let out a few long, loud howls. I was honestly pretty surprised and was starting to rethink my afternoon plans at the shelter when, all of a sudden, the dog started howling along with him!
He would do this with all of the dogs at the shelter, and to my surprise, most of them would end up howling along with him, even the little fluffy ones!
Why do dogs howl when you howl? Howling is an instinctual way for dogs to communicate and bond with you, who they consider part of their pack. It may be that they are simply responding to the noise or they are anxious, but it’s usually just for the fun of joining in with you.
However, if your dog doesn’t howl when you howl, don’t worry – they probably still like you and there are some simple tricks you can do to get your dog to howl with you when you howl.
Before we dive in, if you’re scratching your head thinking “people actually do this?” – yes, emphatically yes, although very few of us have taken it to the next level like naturalist Anneka Svenska does in this wild video:
Reasons Your Dog Howls When You Howl
Reason #1 – Instinctual
Howling is an instinctual behavior in dogs that date back to their wild ancestry.
In the wild, wolves will howl to communicate a wide variety of information to each other across far distances, from their own locations to potential prey and rival wolf packs.
Despite common myths, wolves do not howl at the moon. In fact, they rarely howl for any reason other than to communicate with other wolves.
This instinct to howl to communicate with their pack lingers on in domestic dogs that we know today.
When you howl, you trigger this instinct in your dog to howl alongside their pack, just like they would have done thousands of years ago.
Reason #2 – Bonding
Feeling the impulse to howl is one thing, but howling when you howl is typically a sign that your dog is bonding with you and reassuring both you and everyone else within earshot that you two stick together.
You’ve probably seen similar behavior in humans when the audience at a sports game erupts into their team’s chant or on New Year’s Eve when everyone attempts to muddle their way through the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne.
Making noise, especially rhythmic noise like music or even howling has been shown to reinforce social bonds.
Or your dog may howl when you howl simply as a way of mirroring. Mirroring is a behavior that both humans and dogs have been proven to show.
When you start howling, your loving dog may “mirror” your behavior by howling too for the sole purpose of doing the same behavior. It’s been proven that personality and action mirroring are ways of endearing one another.
Reason #3 – Communicate
Keep in mind that howling is a deeply doggy behavior. It’s one of only a few specific vocalizations that dogs can make besides barking, growling, and a handful of other noises.
When you take it upon yourself to start howling, you’re using a communication tool very familiar to dogs, even ones that don’t often howl of their own accord.
It shouldn’t surprise you then that your dog would attempt to meet you by using the form of communication that you’re using by howling too.
What exactly dogs communicate when they howl still remains a mystery to us. After all, knowing exactly what a dog is trying to communicate when they do any of their communication behaviors would require mind-reading.
However, howling is often used as a way of getting attention or alerting those around of their presence.
When you howl, it’s very likely that your dog believes you are trying to communicate with someone far away, so they start howling to help send the message.
Reason #4 – Reacting To The Sound
Many domestic dogs are simply reactive to high-pitched sounds. If your dog howls when you howl, they may just be reacting to the noise, and the fact that you’re howling is irrelevant.
Dogs are incredibly sensitive to high-pitched noises. This is what makes dog whistles work; they make a sound of a frequency too high-pitched for humans to hear but that dogs can hear loud and clear from even very far distances.
This is why many dogs will howl when a sirene on a police car or ambulance or a squeaking vehicle drives by. Or some will pick up on a neighbor’s lawn equipment and howl then too.
Your dog is constantly being bombarded by sounds. Plus, you probably discourage barking and many of their other vocalizations most of the time.
All of this means that your dog may not be making some complex, wolf-like communication when they join you in a howl.
They may just be being sound reactive.
Reason #5 – They Think You Like It
Let’s be real, unless howling is just a hobby of yours, you’re probably howling at your dog for their benefit.
Because your dog cares about you and is smart enough to know when you’re trying to encourage them to do something (you taught them to sit, stay, come, yada, yada after all, right?), they’re likely howling when you howl because, well, you want them too.
Not only that, once you do get them howling, you’re probably excited that it worked! You may reward them with their favorite treat or a scratch or you may just laugh and be in good spirits, which your dog will also pick up on. All of this reinforces the behavior.
Since they like it when you’re happy, they’ll howl when you howl to meet your expectations and have a little fun with their pet parent.
Reason #6 – Anxious
While they are probably howling with you out of good-natured fun, it may be kind of unsettling for your dog for you to all of a sudden start howling.
Keep in mind that howling is loud and if you start howling at your dog (especially if you’re going full-werewolf and getting seriously into it), they may think it’s a sign of distress, a warning, or you’re in pain.
While it’s true we know that dogs communicate a lot through howling, it’s not exactly a tool we can use to communicate back at them.
Your dog may be howling with you because they think you’re both in danger because you sounded the alarms by howling like that!
Reason #7 – Anticipation
This is especially true if you howl before or while you’re doing certain things with your dog.
If you howl before you take your dog for a walk or before you give them dinner, they may get excited and howl along with you because they are anticipating their walk or their dinner.
Conversely, if you howl before giving them a bath or going to the vet (no judgment, howl whenever you want to), they may howl in anticipation of that oncoming bad thing.
Dogs are creatures of habit and will quickly learn that howling along with you is a predictor of things to come.
Reason #8 – Fun
For all the why’s that there may be, don’t forget that howling is just kind of a fun thing to do. After all, you were the one who started howling, right?
Howling gets dogs’ hearts pumping. It’s loud too, which they probably aren’t often allowed to be.
Most of all though, you and your dog are howling together. Anything as silly and free-spirited as howling with their #1 favorite person is sure to get your dog going.
Why Doesn’t My Dog Howl When I Howl?
Not all dogs are natural howlers and there are a lot of reasons that they may not howl along with you when you howl.
Probably, your dog just doesn’t know what to do.
You’re probably trying to illicit a howl from them when you howl, but they may not know that you want them to copy you. Many people don’t do active mirroring when they train their dogs; it’s not like you said “sit” and then you sat on the floor waiting for your dog to do it too. Learning by example may be totally unfamiliar to them.
Besides confusing, they may be scared or anxious by this weird, new behavior that you’re showing. Or it may be overwhelmingly loud for them and it kills the happy-go-lucky mood required to get your dog howling.
Keep in mind too that you’ve likely spent your dog’s whole life trying to get them to bark and vocalize less often. It’s a weird gear shift for them to now be not only expected but asked to make one of the loudest sounds in their inventory.
Finally, even if they aren’t scared or confused, they may just not want to howl right now. If your friend invited you to howl at a given moment, there’s a good chance you’d say “no” sometimes too.
All dogs are individuals, and it may just be that your dog isn’t a howler or at least doesn’t get into it to the degree that you want them to.
However, howling is a behavior just like any other dog behavior, which means you are able to modify and control it to some degree.
You just need to know what to do.
How Can I Get My Dog To Howl When I Howl?
You’re off to a great start already by making the first move to howl. Good job!
If they still aren’t howling, you’ll need to make sure that they know what you want them to do.
You can help get your dog howling by enlisting the sounds of other people or dogs howling, either by playing a video or inviting some really game friends over for a howling training session.
Howling is a form of communication, which is social. The more folks you get involved, human and dog, the more likely your dog will be to join in on the fun.
You may need to settle for getting them barking at first until they learn how to transition to a full-blown howl. This is especially true if your dog has never howled before.
After that, it’s just a matter of practicing and making sure that you keep the environment fun and light-hearted so your dog feels comfortable trying out this odd new behavior with you.
Eventually, you’ll be able to assign a word to it and get them howling along with you no matter where you are!
Your Dog Howling With You
Howling along with your dog is one of the very few primordial activities we modern pet owners can still engage in with our dogs.
Your dog may howl along with you out of instinct, to communicate, or maybe just for the fun of doing something with their favorite person.
Whatever their reason, it’s hard to argue that a moment spent howling with your dog is a wasted moment. Happy howling, readers!