There’s something unsettling about the sound of a howling dog. The howl is an ancient inherited mode of communication, stemming from the days when dogs roamed in packs. The high pitched, drawn out howl can be heard several miles away. In the wild, the howl was used as a way of calling the pack together. For example, if a dog found a particularly tasty piece of carrion, his howl would call his pack to the feast site.
There are other more subtle social reasons for dogs howling – but these are more difficult to interpret. For example, the howl of a dog seems to be infectious. If one dog in a kennel starts to howl, several other dogs in the kennel will soon join in. Perhaps this communal howl is a way of making the dogs feel that they are part of the same team, not as alone in the world as they may feel. A human analogy might be the members of a rugby team singing ‘rugby songs’ together at the end of a good day’s sport. There is something reassuring about being part of something bigger than yourself.
Another way of vocalizing
The modern domestic dog has certainly adapted the howl from its traditional usage. Many pets seem to use the howl as just another way of vocalising, in addition to their repertoire of growls, barks and whines. Some dogs even howl in response to music. An owner recently told me how her Jack Russell recognises the “Eastenders” theme tune on television. The owner is in the habit of taking the dog for a walk immediately after the programme. The dog loves his walks, and so he becomes excited whenever he hears the theme music – ” I’m going on a walk soon – whoooo whoooo whoooooo!”
Another dog has learnt to recognise his owner’s alarm clock in the morning. As soon as the alarm goes off in the owner’s bedroom, the dog downstairs realises that a walk will happen shortly.
The dog has discovered that howling makes the walk happen sooner. The poor owner has to obey her pet – there is no ‘snooze button’ on a howling dog!
Blog post by Pete Wedderburn. Check out his site at www.petewedderburn.com