When the family gathers round to sing carols on Christmas Eve, does your pup love to join along? Or it could be that whenever you play an instrument or crank up the stereo, good old Rex never fails to start howling. While you may enjoy watching him croon along to his favorite tunes, you may have wondered why music triggers the howling instinct.
When Rex starts howling, it's a form of communication. Since you're his best pal, he's probably trying to communicate with you. For example, if you're playing the trumpet, the high-pitched sound is likely reminding Rex of another dog howling. Sirens and other high-pitched sounds will often trigger him to howl. He'll howl back at you because it makes perfect sense to him that that's what you want him to do. If you've ever heard the chain reaction of one dog howling leading to the entire block of pups having a howl-fest, you've witnessed this form of pooch chatter.
Wolves in the wild will howl to communicate with one another. Wolves use howling a little differently than your canine does. Since the high-pitched wail of a howl can be heard over great distances, one wolf will howl to another to let him know his position. It's kind of like wolf GPS. If the pack is spread out over acres of wilderness, a howl can help bring them back together. Your lovable pooch is descended from wolves, and while he doesn't use it to locate his pack, the instinct to return a howl hasn't diminished. When Rex hears the high-pitched sound of music, it triggers the howling instinct he's hung onto from his wolf ancestors.
Could it Possibly Cause Pain?
You may fear that the sound of music isn't near as pleasant to Rex as it is to you, but this isn't likely. If your pup was in pain, he wouldn't be howling, he'd be hiding. He'd bury his head, cover his ears with his paws or run away to another room. Howling isn't a signal of pain, it's just another form of puppy talk. Unless your dog displays signs of pain, he's likely just trying to chat with you.
Curbing The Behavior
Most of the time watching Rex “sing” is just good for a laugh and a smile, but if you have to practice an instrument every day, his song may become troublesome. The ASPCA recommends a form of training called desensitization and counterconditioning to help keep Rex quiet. Desensitization involves exposing him to increasing amounts of the trigger, like starting with a bit of soft music and leading up to what was causing the howl. By exposing him slowly, he'll get used to the sound and won't be as apt to react. Counterconditioning means teaching Rex to associate the sound with something good, like getting a treat every time he hears it. If he learns being quiet when the music plays earns him a treat, he'll be less likely to start howling. Speak with a qualified dog trainer if Rex's song becomes an issue.
By Melissa Schindler
About the Author
Melissa Schindler has been writing professionally since 2010. She writes about pets, animals, technology and parenting for various websites. Also a fiction writer, she is author of "Houston After Dark." She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University.