Howling in Dogs
Howling is one of many forms of vocal communication used by
dogs. Dogs howl to attract attention, to make contact with others and to
announce their presence. Some dogs also howl in response to high-pitched
sounds, such as emergency vehicle sirens or musical instruments. Read on to
learn what to do if your dog howls excessively.
Problems to Rule Out First
Separation Anxiety Howling
If your neighbors call you and tell you that your dog is
howling when you are at work, your dog’s excessive howling might be caused by
separation anxiety. Separation anxiety howling only occurs when a dog is left
alone or otherwise separated from his owner. This kind of howling is usually
accompanied by at least one other symptom of separation anxiety, such as
pacing, destruction, elimination, depression or other signs of distress.
Dogs sometimes howl when they’re hurt or sick. If your dog
starts howling or howls more than usual, take him to a veterinarian to rule out
illness and injury before doing anything else.
What to Do About Excessive Howling
Howling in Responds to Sounds
If your dog howls in response to some kind of trigger, like
another dog howling or a nearby siren, he’ll probably stop when the sound
stops. This type of howling usually isn’t excessive-unless, of course, the
triggers occur frequently. If they do, you can use desensitization and
counterconditioning (DSCC) to help your dog learn to be quiet.
Systematic Desensitization and Counterconditioning
When the problem is rooted in how a dog feels about a
particular thing, it sometimes isn’t enough to just teach him a different
behavior-like to fetch a toy instead of howling, for example. Instead, it’s
most effective to change his motivation and feelings, which are the underlying
reasons for the behavior problem in the first place.
Systematic desensitization and counterconditioning are two
common treatments for fears, anxiety, phobias and aggression-basically any
behavior problem that involves arousal or emotions. It’s often most effective
to use these two procedures together when trying to resolve animal behavior
problems. For a detailed overview of these treatments, please see our article,
and Counterconditioning. If you think that a systematic desensitization and
counterconditioning plan might help your dog, please see our article, Finding Professional
Help, for information about locating a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist
(CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) in your area. If
you can’t find a behaviorist near you, you can choose to hire a Certified
Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) instead. However, be sure to find out whether
he or she has professional education and extensive experience using
desensitization and counterconditioning. This kind of expertise isn’t required
for CPDT certification, so it’s important to make sure that the CPDT you employ
is qualified to help you.