Understanding why dogs howl and the meaning of some of the other noises they make can help owners to learn more about what’s on their dog’s mind at any time and get close to understanding what makes them tick.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

More Dog Sounds And What They Mean

Soft whimpering: “I hurt!” “I’m scared.” The average person is most likely to hear this at the veterinarian’s office, when the dog is suffering, or when a submissive dog is in a strange place that appears threatening. This is really a carryover of the mewing sound that young puppies make when cold, hungry, or distressed.

Louder, more prolonged whining sound: “Please give me . . .” or “I want …” A dog usually uses this sound when waiting for food, or for the leash to be put on, or when trying to get his owner’s attention, and so forth.

Sighs: This vocalization, which is invariably accompanied by the dog’s lying down with his head on his forepaws, can have two meanings, depending on the context and certain facial expressions. With eyes half-closed, it is a sign of pleasure, meaning “I am content and am going to settle down here.” With eyes fully open, it is a sign of disappointment when something anticipated has not materialized, best interpreted as “I give up!”

Baying: This is the characteristic sound of hounds during a hunt. It is usually interpreted as “Follow me!” “Let us get him!” or “All together now!”

Yip-howl: This is really more of a yip-yip-yip-howl, with the final howl quite prolonged. It usually means “I am lonely” “I feel abandoned!” or “Is anybody there?”

Howling: “I am here!” “This is my territory!” or “I hear you out there!” A confident animal will often howl simply to announce his presence. Howling also often occurs in response to a yip-howl from another dog. It has a more sonorous sound to the human ear than does the yip-howl, which is often described as mournful.

Moaning: This sounds something like “ar-owl-wowl-wowl . . .” over a short interval of time. It is a sound of spontaneous pleasure and excitement that means “I am excited!” or “Let us play!” A dog usually moans when something he really likes is about to happen.

Panting: “Let us go!” This is a sign of excitement.

Dogs can also learn specific vocalizations. For instance, the bark that dogs give to the command speak sounds qualitatively different from a spontaneous bark. The same can be said for the bark that police and protection dogs learn to give. Some dogs can even be taught
specific sounds for specific settings, ranging from simple barks, moans, or play-growls to more complex sounds that may sound like yodels or attempts at speech.

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