Dogs howl for a lot of reasons (but not because death is near, despite superstitions).

If you live with a dog, you probably recognize—and respond to—most of his vocalizations. He barks when he wants to come inside and when he wants his treat now. He whines when he needs to go potty. He growls when he senses a stranger on the other side of the front door.

But why does your dog howl and what should you—or shouldn't you—do about it? We asked the experts to find out.

dog howling at a window
Credit: Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty

Why Do Dogs Howl?

In lieu of speech (and puppy-dog eyes), your dog tries to communicate with you by vocalizing in many ways. The sound that carries the farthest is howling—that long, loud, mournful cry. But your dog howls for many reasons.

Dogs Howl To Communicate

Dogs howl in response to high-pitched sounds—such as sirens, some musical instruments (like the harmonica), and their owners' singing. Dogs will even howl when you howl. This type of howling—which includes yips and yodels—is commonly used by wolves to energize their canine colleagues before a hunt, and it's likely dogs do it for a similar reason.

In other words, howling is a rally cry to other dogs. "Hey, I'm here! This is my territory!" Or they're acknowledging that they hear another dog howling.

Dogs Howl To Express Distress

If your neighbors tell you your dog howls while you're not home, your dog may be experiencing some kind of stress or anxiety. This type of howling often goes paw-in-paw with other dog separation anxiety symptoms, such as pacing, destruction, and elimination. BTW: Your dog is more likely to whine than howl if he is uncomfortable or in pain.

Dogs Howl Because They're Dreaming

When your pooch is in the middle of an active dream, you may hear him howl, bark, whimper, or growl. He might also move his legs or tail, breathe quickly, chew, or quiver. The sounds and movements may be linked to emotion being expressed in your pup's dream.

A dog's howling does not mean death is near. This is just a superstition; there's no evidence dogs possess psychic powers (except for their ability to know when it is dinnertime without wearing a watch).

Why Does My Dog Howl at the Moon?

You may observe your dog tilting his head to the sky when he's howling. Some folks say that when a dog tilts his head upward he straightens out his vocal cords, which results in better airflow for howling. Other people theorize that howling at the moon allows the sound waves to travel farther. There is no scientific proof for either theory.

According to Jeff Werber, DVM, it's more likely your dog is howling to communicate—either with you or other dogs—to let them know they're present.

Which Dog Breeds Howl the Most?

Some dog breeds are more likely to howl than others—particularly hounds. Breeds that are known to howl as a form of vocalization include:

When Should I Worry?

Let your ears guide the way. If your dog howls incessantly when you're away from home or when he's confined to his crate, you should seek help, says Kenneth Martin, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, dog trainer, and owner of Veterinary Behavior Consultations in Austin, Texas.

What will the veterinary behaviorist do when your dog is his patient? If it's Martin, he'll talk with you to figure out the context of the howling and determine the trigger that induces the behavior. "If your howling dog seems fairly relaxed, happy, and outgoing, he's seeking attention," Martin says. "If your dog is pacing, panting, or drooling while he howls, he's anxious."

In the case of separation anxiety, the treatment protocol may include medication. "As a veterinarian, you're somewhat limited to the things you can do to lessen separation anxiety in the owner's absence. How do you tell a dog it's going to be OK?" Martin says. "If the dog is having a panic attack, that's when medicine is appropriate."

How Can I Stop My Dog from Howling?

If your dog's howling is triggered by a siren, he'll likely stop howling when the siren stops. But he's also going to howl again the next time an ambulance flies by.

Instead of approaching your dog's howling by telling him to 'knock it off', calmly interrupt your howling dog's behavior, Martin says. "Offer an alternative behavior by calling your dog to come and sit. Then reward him with a treat," he says. "Reinforce that alternative behavior frequently instead of paying attention to your dog when he gets into mischief."

Martin also recommends rewarding your dog when he's quiet. "Catch him before he starts howling," he says. With proper encouragement and the right rewards, your pup will be more likely to continue the desirable behavior.