Does your dog love to join in on the latest Adele track? Or, perhaps Fido is the first to add his vocals when your family gathers around the piano during the holidays? They’re certainly always keen to mimic those fire trucks racing by.
So …Why do dogs howl to music?
Well, let’s start right back at the very beginning to answer this question.
The History of Howling
Researchers now know that the domestic canine descended from wolves. And, it was these wolves that humans first domesticated. How they did this is still a source of debate. But it’s thought that tens of thousands of years ago, there was some kind of genetic split between wolves and dogs.1
In the wild, even today, wolves howl to communicate with each other. This communication is essential because wolves live in packs. Wolves must be able to coordinate their pack and maintain social stability, as well communicate with rival packs. And, just like humans, wolves vocalize to display their intentions or emotions and to “talk” to each other.2
Today, the most primal sound you will ever hear come out of your dog is a howl. It’s a very real connection to who they once were, buried deep within their genetic code.
Can All Dogs Howl?
All dogs, even the tiny chihuahua, are connected to wolves. But some dogs are certainly more vocal than others. Dogs that howl tend to be of the traditional hunting variety – like Alaskan malamutes, bloodhounds, huskies, or dachshunds.
Interestingly, music is one of the key things that can bring out dog howling in any breed – even the non-hunters.
So, Why Music?
As mentioned above, one reason wolves howl is to assemble their pack. When one wolf begins to howl, other members tend to join in, as if in song, with their pack. This “all-together” howl is seen as a happy occasion, and wolves will run some distance to join in.3
Music has a similar feel to this wolf chorus. Whether it’s several instruments, or several voices playing out in different pitches, it’s somehow familiar to a canine. This is because wolves tend to howl at different frequencies, much like a choir.
It’s believed that both wolves and dogs have a good sense of pitch.4
A wonderful example of this happened at Carnegie Hall in 1980. The famed New York City music hall hosted a musical called Howl. It was written for 20 humans – and three howling dogs – to display just how good a dog could be with pitch.
Dogs, you see, deliberately stay in their own register, further securing their identity in whichever “pack” they find themselves. No dog likes to end up on the same note as any other in a “choir.” This is one reason why, when your dog starts to howl along to music, they stand out – because they are deliberately not “singing” along in the same register.5
Experts say that the kind of music that most often propels a pooch to howl is produced by wind instruments, especially reed instruments, like clarinets or saxophones. Dogs also tend to love a long note – whether human or instrumental (or fire truck!). The theory is that these particular sounds may be reminiscent of pack sounds to a dog. That’s why your pup feels compelled to join in, even if they’re not sure why!6
And get this: Dogs may also be affected by music like us. One research study found that classical music appears to have the ability to calm dog behavior, while heavy metal tended to rile dogs up.7
Other Reasons For Dog Howling
Howling dogs aren’t always reacting to music. There are a couple of other key reasons why your dog may be howling.
–– Separation Anxiety
One of the reasons wolves howl is out of loneliness. They’re a pack animal, and weren’t built to fly solo. Dogs that suffer badly from separation anxiety may howl every time their owner leaves the house.8
A dog that’s in pain may also howl. This is how they communicate that they are sick or hurt. If your pooch suddenly starts howling more than usual, you should take them to your vet for an examination.9
Just like President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s best friend, Yuki, who could hold a note better than LBJ, your dog may just have better pitch than you.10 So, don’t be alarmed if you pup strikes up a duet with Celine Dion, or tries to command the Law & Order theme song. At least you’ll have one singer in the family!
Dog howling is usually harmless behavior, but if you think that your dog’s howling may be something more, and they’re displaying other unusual behavior, it’s always good to speak to your vet for a second opinion.
So, why do dogs howl to music? Ultimately, they really just want to be a part of the team.