After a long day, you finally settle in for the night. All is dark and quiet, and some time after a peaceful reflection of the day’s events, you begin to drift off. Suddenly, an ominous wail sounds plaintively through the house. It ceases, and builds again. Rolling over, you punch your pillow, lament the certain loss of a good night’s sleep, and ask: why does my dog howl at night?
Why Dogs Howl At Night
Howling differs from barking in that it is more of a communication, and less of an alert. Even if your dog is relatively quiet during the day, night howling can become a problem in no time, and just one sleepless night with a howling dog can feel like a week of fatigue and frustration. Dogs can drop and pick up this behavior without warning. Before trying a pricey vet visit or a new training technique, consider the following.
How old is your howler? Dogs who typically howl at night often fall into one of two categories: puppy and senior. Puppies will howl and cry at night for reasons akin to human babies who keep their parents awake. If you are crate training, the puppy probably wants attention, is lonely, or needs to go to the bathroom. That said, a desire for affection is the most common reason puppies howl at night. Remember that the little one has been separated from its mother and siblings recently, and this can cause a bit of loneliness and anxiety. If your puppy is howling at night, but not in a crate, see if positioning them closer to you makes them feel more secure. If you’d prefer they sleep only in another area, try placing a hot water bottle and wind-up alarm clock in their bed. The hot water bottle will give the puppy the warm sensation of sleeping in a pack, and the ticking of the clock reminds them of the heartbeat of their missing mother or siblings.
If your dog is advancing in age, the howling could be a sign of cognitive disability that happens in later years. This is usually accompanied by confusion at other times, such as a seeming inability to find their food bowl, sudden aggression, or even appearing confused at who you are. Have the dog’s vision and hearing checked, as older dogs who are going deaf or blind will howl at night. Those howls might be calls for assistance on your part, particularly if the dog has gotten lost in the house. Many older dogs need to be confined to ground floor levels of the home, in the common area they’re most familiar with, so they don’t have to wander and strain to find their dishes and bed.
Other dogs may howl at night for puppyish reasons, like the desire for affection. If your dog can’t sleep and is bored or lonely, he may howl at night. Some dogs will stop if you ignore them, as they’re just making an attempt. Dogs who persist may need to have their bed moved to your room or somewhere else in the house, since they’re not relaxed and secure where they currently are. Make the move during the day, and be sure it’s an adjustment you will stick with- you don’t want to seem like you are rewarding a dog for howling at night. Getting up in the middle of the night and coddling the dog without making a real change to quell the behavior will just lead to more late-night howling.
It is possible that your dog howls at night because they can hear activity that you can’t. Dogs hear four times what we do, and any rustling or scurrying outside or within the walls can put them on alert, ready to announce their position and stake their territory. Their wolfish instinct is to howl and let others know they are present.
That same pack ‘roll call’ could be directed toward you, with the dog wishing to tell you that they’re nearby, and where are you? This can be confirmed if they also suffer from separation anxiety. You may not know it, but your dog could be howling every time you leave the house, not just at night when you’re trying to sleep. Keeping your dog occupied by providing them with ways to enjoy themselves while alone is a good way to cut back on any howling, day or night. Over time your dog forgets that it always feels bad to be separated from you. Toys that have treats hidden inside, that the dog must work to get to, are very effective in reducing boredom and anxiety. The trick to using them to maximum efficacy is to only let your dog have that special treat when they are alone.
If your dog rarely howls, and never at night, a sudden streak of night howling can mean injury or illness. If you had noticed any limping, loss of appetite, excessive licking, or lethargy, it is best to take them directly to a veterinarian. These howls are often punctuated by other unusual noises that sound like a hybrid of talking and whining.
If you know why your dog howls at night, and it isn’t age or illness related, and you’ve tried the above ideas for separation anxiety, a bit of obedience training is definitely in order. Just as we teach our dogs to make a noise, or ‘speak’, they can learn the ‘quiet’ command as well. As with most dog training, this is enforced by treats. It’s easiest to start ‘quiet’ after your dog has mastered ‘speak’. The next time your dog barks on command, praise them, but do not reward them. After saying ‘quiet’, give the treat if your dog makes no sound. Repeat as necessary, alternating those commands, and only giving treats after the ‘quiet’ command. Work on gradually extending the length of time your dog must be quiet to receive the treat. The next time the dog howls at night, you can say, “Quiet!” and they’ll know that being quiet is good, proper behavior that leads to treats.