Why do some dogs howl when their owner howls?

The video on this page shows the behaviour that I describe in the title very well. It takes place in Castelo Branco, Portugal hence the burnt landscape and bright sun – lovely. The woman makes a howling sound and her cute dog, Molly, follows admirably. She is suitably impressed and so are we. They are both charming. Why does the dog follow the woman in howling? You may know the answer.

Dog follows owner’s howl. Scrrenshot.

“This is something my partner and I do with our dog, Molly. We encourage her to howl and she does it beautifully. She also communicates with our neighbour across the river in this way. It is amazing too.”

You certainly know that the dog’s wild ancestor is the grey wolf. And wolves howl mostly in the early evening before departing on a group hunt and then in the early morning before setting off again. Dogs don’t normally howl because they don’t go on group hunts ?. They are provided for by their owner. But the desire to howl is instinctive and it comes out on these occasions.

Note: This is an embedded video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source or the video is turned into a link which stops it working here. I have no control over this.

Dr. Desmond Morris explains it beautifully. The function of a dog howl is to say the following: “I (we) are here, where are you? Come and join me (us).”

The function then is call others to join; to attract the other members of the pack and to induce them to join in the tribal song. And they all get together and go off hunting. In this instance the leader of the pack, this sweet woman, howls and a pack member, her dog, howls in unison. Many dogs never howl in normal circumstances but they might do so when they are at home alone suffering from separation anxiety. The basic message is the same namely to join him and to tell whoever is listening that he is here and needs his owner to come back and join him.

Apparently, human fieldworkers have employed fake howling to attract young wolf cubs to them. They sat in a tree and imitated the howling of adult wolves which was an effective way to bring small cubs out to join them. The older wolves refused to be fooled. As wolf adults mature, they learn to recognise individual identity of the howler.

Howling can become a personal signature tune and therefore the message, “It is me, come and join me”, is specific to an individual wolf. Indeed, experts believe that each howling transmits information about the precise mood of the dog making the vocalisation.

Howling can also be a vocalisation to tell others that an area of territory is occupied by a group of wolves. This occurs when the howling takes place on the border of a pack’s territory.

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