Wolves howl, dogs howl less and some dog breeds hardly howl at all

The dog population is made up of purebred and random bred dogs and hybrids. I don’t know the exact breakdown as it is unclear but there are far more purebred dogs than there are purebred cats as a percentage of the whole. And research indicates that amongst a group of 68 purebred dogs some of them are more distanced from their wild ancestor the gray wolf compared to other breeds.

Howling is hard-wired into ancient dog breeds but much less so in modern breeds
Howling is hard-wired into ancient dog breeds but much less so in modern breeds. Image: MikeB.

The breeds that are closest to wolves in terms of their genetics respond to howling by howling themselves whereas those that are most distant don’t really get it and hardly howl at all.

The researchers said:

“The Asian breeds howl, and they howl longer. In modern breeds very few showed his behaviour and when they did the howl was very short.”

The participants were tested by playing the sound of a howling wolf pack to see if they responded in kind. Ancient breeds such as the Siberian husky or shih tzu responded with howling whereas dog breeds such as the Yorkshire terrier were more likely to bark even though they are capable of howling.

How useful is this? Not an awful lot to be honest. It tells us that many dog breeds are very distant from wolves in terms of their genotype because of hundreds perhaps thousands of years of selective breeding.

Alternatively, it appears that some Asian breeds have been selectively bred in a way which has retained some of these ancient wolf genes. And in the case of the Siberian husky the wolf appearance has been maintained to a certain extent.

The research was carried out at Eotvos Lorand University in Hungry.

Why do wolves and dogs howl?

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that in general dogs have no real need to howl and it is relatively rare because it’s function is to synchronise and assemble the wolf pack for action.

Wolves mostly howl in the evening before departing on a group hunt and in the early morning. The domestic dog does not have to hunt for their food and therefore there is no need for this particular long-range call.

Domestic dogs live in a form of “perpetual puppydom” to use the words of Dr. Desmond Morris. This is very similar to domestic cats who are mentally kept in a similar state to that of kittens even when they are fully grown. They are continually provided for and this restricts mental development.

The official function of howling is to “reinforce pack cohesion”. There is no need for domestic dogs to do this whereas there is often a dispersal of the pack in the life of wolves and the need to bring them together.

Under particular circumstances a dog that hardly ever if ever howled might do so when for example they are forcibly shut away on their own and they perform the “howl of loneliness”.

Under these circumstances the howl serves the same purpose as it does for the wolf. The confined dog is saying “I am here. Where are you? Come and join me.”

The intention here is to attract the other members of the dog’s pack which is the owner and other family members.

Transmitting the mood of the howler

Wolf experts believe that each howling transmits a certain amount of information about the wolf doing the howling. They also believe that there is an element of territorial display because howling normally takes place on the borders of a wolf pack’s territory. This announces to other groups that a particular area is occupied by an organised band of wolves.

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