If your dog has always howled, you may not give it much thought as to why; after all, domestic canines are descendants from wolves.

But what if your dog suddenly starts howling out of the blue, for no apparent reason?

“Usually dogs howl in response to a sound stimulus. In the wolf population it’s a calling sound or a response to a calling,” says Mary Remer, certified pet dog trainer, breeder and licensed AKC judge, having trained more than 20,000 dogs in her 30-year career.

If you watch Animal Planet enough, you’ll sooner or later see a show about a person who spends a lot of time with wolves.

This person will be perched on a rock, for instance, and will start howling.

Before long, the wolves that he or she has befriended will gather around this individual and start howling as well. It’s a social event. Howling means, “Come join me.”

Remer continues, “In domestic dogs, we tend to see howling more in response to a sound, such as a fire alarm, or sometimes musicians report that their dogs howl when the instrument they play is at a certain note or pitch.

Sometimes dogs howl if there is a particular song on the radio and may react to a pitch or a note and the dog responds with a howl.”

My parents’ German shepherd would let out a sustained, forceful howl whenever the doorbell rang, and then it was followed by a series of guard-dog-like barks.

Remer adds, “Some dogs howl because they’re lonely.”

In my parents’ neighborhood is a husky that’s often left out in the yard for many hours on end all by itself; this poor husky has howled incessantly and sounded like one miserable animal.

The howling was nonstop and it was a wonder this stately husky didn’t damage its vocal cords.

My mother finally put several complaints into the homeowners’ association and the howling has since ceased.

No pet should be left outside alone for literally eight hours, like this lonely husky was.

“Some dogs howl as part of locating their prey,” says Remer. “Certain hound breeds will howl as an indication of locating their prey. Some hounds such as treeing hounds and coon hounds howl to let the human hunter know its location.

“Bassets, beagles and fox hounds have a howl-like noise known as a cry when they are hunting and will also make the sound in an aroused state anticipating hunting.”

And sometimes, it’s just not clear why a dog will start howling out of the blue. My parents’ German shepherd, as mentioned, normally let out a single howl whenever the doorbell rang, followed by aggressive barking.

But not long after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, the German shepherd began howling while in the car, even though there were no apparent auditory stimuli around, or people around, while the car was parked in the lot; or while I was driving the car.

The German shepherd had been in cars since puppy-hood, so it was a mystery why one day he began emitting a more passive, and very prolonged, type of howl; it was a very charming howl that I enjoyed listening to, yet at the same time, it made me wonder if the disease was affecting his thinking, even though he seemed to be improving from treatment.

This magnificent German shepherd not long after made his journey to the Bridge.

In conclusion, howling is definitely a communication device among domestic dogs. 

Mary Remer is founder of What a Good Dog, a dog training and behavioral facility.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.