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Why Does My Dog Howl?

My black lab mix is perfect in every way. She's as happy to run 5 miles with me as to sit under my desk while I work all day. I have just always wondered about her howling habit. Does anyone else have a dog who howls?

This is Curlie howling. Credit: Leslie Yager
This is Curlie howling. Credit: Leslie Yager
This is one of my dogs. Her name is Curlie. She's a black lab mix rescued from Georgia by Strays and Others of New Canaan (thank you Claudia Weber) and adopted by me. She is perfect in every way, but she has a habit that perplexes me.

Curlie howls every time she hears a siren. It might not be worth mentioning, if not for the fact that we live two blocks from both the police and fire station in Greenwich.  The stream of sirens is constant. 

Growing up in Darien, my family had a small Poodle, followed by a Doberman, a Great Dane, two Dachshunds, two Standard Poodles and a Weimaraner. I've owned a CRAZY Basenji-mix named Chip, followed by Buddy who is a Pit Bull mix rescued from Greenwich Animal Control (he was even a therapy dog in Greenwich for a few years), and, now, in addition to Buddy, we have Curlie.

Of all those dogs over, I never knew one who howled, so I really just wonder. Is it fear based? Is she communicating with what she thinks is another dog? Do her ears hurt? 

Does anyone else have a dog who howls? Is it a trait particular to black labs? What sets them off? Sirens?  I am just curious. Thanks.
Kelly Bardis October 19, 2013 at 10:48 AM
I have the same problem. Ambulance or fire siren, my poodle howls. Never thought to ask the vet either. Lately though when I go out, she waits til I lock the door, go down a few steps then starts howling. This is new. She's a rescue dog, from a puppy mill. I've had her 6 months and she the most affectionate dog I've had. If you find out about the howling, let me know! ;)
Alethiologist October 19, 2013 at 03:27 PM
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/howling As with children, introduce a good habit to replace a bad habit.
jkdates October 20, 2013 at 06:56 AM
My cocker spaniel which is normally quite reserved will howl at odd times and for no apparent reason. The howl has an almost ritualistic pattern, and always ends in 3 to 4 sharp barks. He is compulsive about completing the ritual. At first I thought it was in response to hearing the coyotes in the neighbourhood; now as I have observed that the volume decreases if he sees me, I believe he is locating his pack or calling them in. This same dog never follows people about the house except after dark or during storms. He then insists that everyone stay in the same room. He will herd anyone who attempts to leave.
oldtimer October 20, 2013 at 07:09 AM
My Black Lab was quiet.
Leslie Yager (Editor) October 20, 2013 at 08:43 AM
I am sitting here with my pit mix who is half deaf and my black lab subject of the video. I just played the video at full volume. The lab didn't flinch at the recording of the sirens and howling, but the pit mix startled from his nap. Go figure!
Wini Mola October 20, 2013 at 10:20 AM
I just read an interestinig article and am passing it on ..."The sounds of the natural world, cloaked in darkness, can be spooky and mysterious. The howl of the wolf is perhaps the most haunting of all. As humans, we have a hard time decoding these long wailing songs. It is a commoon myth that the wolves are howling at a full moon says animal expert, Carey Anderson, host of TV Expedition Wild. They are actually stretching toward the sky to project their call as far as possible. Wolves whimper, woof, snarl and moan, but when they spread out to hunt, they howl to communicate: to alert the pack to reconvene, to warn others out of their territory and to simply broadcast their location. A wolf's howl can carry up to 6 miles in a forest, 10 in treeless terrain. It's the glue that keeps the pack together, Anderson says." After reading this, I suggest that perhaps your dog hears the sien and starts to howl to warn his pack (your family) to gather together to warn of danger which obviously is happening each time the sirens go off. Hope this info is informative and perhaps each time the siren goes off you can replace it with a strategy of some kind to distract your dog to something pleasant he enjoys or just know and embrace the fact that your dog is trying to gather all of you to protect you. What a wonderful dog!!!
suzanne van nostrand October 20, 2013 at 01:58 PM
My Vizsla sometimes howls in his sleep as if he's had a bad, or maybe a good dream. And whenever I use my Vitamix ...I'm thinking the sound bothers his ears.
Leslie Yager (Editor) October 20, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Hi Wini! Thank you for your thoughtful comment: "perhaps your dog hears the siren and starts to howl to warn his pack (your family) to gather together to warn of danger..." That rings true and is also a moving thought. There's something about the howling that makes me a bit emotional, like hearing bagpipes. This dog had fended for herself as a stray in Georgia and wound up in a kill shelter before she made it to us. She had clearly never been inside a house or even encountered a set of stairs. She was traumatized and terrified, and wouldn't come beyond our front hall for the several days. Over time all the fears and cowering melted away. The only behavior the arrived with that persists is the howling. I guess it's forever.
oldtimer October 21, 2013 at 07:26 AM
It is SO GOOD to see these comments from true dog lovers!!!!!!
Charlene October 21, 2013 at 11:10 AM
I had a yellow lab that would occasionally howl. She would only do it when we were all in bed. It always sounded sad, like she was calling to long lost friends. None of my other dogs seemed fazed by her howling and they didn't do anything in response.
Igor October 21, 2013 at 12:36 PM
I have a dog in the neighborhood that is constantly howling. Up to 2 in the morning. I think it misses his owner. I seems when the master comes home the howling stops. Does anyone know if there a law against this?
Charlene October 21, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Igor, maybe you can mention to your neighbor that their dog howls when they are away. They might not know their dog does this. My dog is very quiet, but I found out that when I would leave him outside and go do errands he barked continuously. Thankfully my neighbor informed me of this and I didn't leave him outside alone anymore. I'm happy she didn't involve the police and she's happy that I rectified the issue
Igor October 21, 2013 at 05:21 PM
Thanks Charlene for the advice. But In this case the parents of the boy that owns the dog are home. It's the boy that the dog is howling for. The parents just ignore it. It's not the dog's fault I know, but boy is it annoying, especially when you have to go work the next day.
Linda Anne Queiroz October 22, 2013 at 07:07 PM
We have a rescue dog--a cocker basset hound mix. He only howls in his sleep, never while awake. It's distressing because it sounds so sad.
Leslie Yager (Editor) October 23, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Linda Anne, That must be so hard to watch when your dog is howling in his sleep. Probably defeats the purpose to wake him up too. But it makes howling even more mysterious to me. My neighbors have a Beagle who howls constantly, and it sounds like she's in agonizing pain -- uniquely Beagle-sounding. I hope my neighbors don't get upset about my dog's howling because I doubt it's something I can train her to stop.

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