Howlin’ Jack Russells

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Does your Jack Russell howl? Do you ever wonder why? There are actually quite a few possibilities. It can be social, it can be a means of self-expression, or your dog could be trying to tell you something specific. It’s a behavior that goes back a long time in canine evolution, and a lot of different canids do it. What’s more, just like there are different kinds of barks, there are different kinds of howls as well.

Whether you think it’s cute or it drives you crazy, let’s dig more into this fascinating, and quintessentially canine behavior.

The Social Howl

Most canids are pack animals. They live in groups and act cooperatively. Howling is often part of this. Wolves, for example, howl together as a group to communicate with pack members who aren’t present at the time. It tells the absent pack members that the pack is there for them. The sound also tells the separated wolves where the pack is.

Bruce howls when his owners ask him about an absent family member.

If your dog hears another dog howling in the distance, they may howl back. After all, it’s rude to ignore someone who’s talking to you!

Try this: the next time your family is together with your dog, try to raise a group howl. Does your dog howl along with you?

Lucy howls when she hears another Jack Russell Terrier howling on YouTube.

The Territorial Howl

Lifting their leg isn’t a dog’s only way to mark territory. If a dog senses another dog breaching their turf, they may howl to let the other dog know that they’re trespassing. The territorial howl also informs members of the dog’s own pack that there’s an intruder.

The Excited Howl

Sunny’s owners say he howls when he wants attention.

If a dog is excited about something, and you’re not there, they may howl to tell you all about it!

This is especially true if your dog has achieved something and is feeling a sense of accomplishment. They know they’ve been a good dog, and they want some praise, please. If you’re not there to tell them they’re a good dog, they may try to raise you on the dog-o-phone! This is one reason, for example, that a lot of hunting dogs howl when they’ve found their quarry.

Like Pet Parent, Like Pet

Marley has figured out how to howl even when his mouth is full!

Our pets often pick up on, and try to imitate some of our own personality traits. If you’re extroverted and vocal, your dog may model its behavior after yours. In this case, howling is a compliment!

Howling at the Moon

The image of a wolf howling at the moon is iconic. But when canids howl at night, it’s not the moon in specific that they’re addressing.

Experts aren’t sure why dogs seem to howl more at night than during the day. Some theories include:

  • They’re more active at night and therefore more vocal (this is especially true for strays and wild dogs)
  • During the day, their vocalizations get lost in the daytime noise of human activity, so we notice it less
  • The noises of human activity give them something to think about during the day; at night they may be bored and looking for something to do.

Your dog may howl for a variety of other reasons, as well — reasons that may be a reason for concern.

Pain or Illness

If your dog is ill or injured, they may be howling to let you know about it. If your dog starts to howl more or in a different way than usual, try to determine if they’re suffering in some way. A trip to the vet may be in order.

Separation Anxiety

Stanley howls when his owners leave him home alone.

Remember how we said howling is the way a pack communicates with absent members? If your dog howls when you’re away, it could be because they’re missing you. It could also be that they are truly terrified in your absence.

If you think your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, you might consider some of these tried-and-true techniques. These include:

  • “Practicing” by leaving the house, then coming right back inside. Do this several times, increasing the time of your absence with each repetition.
  • Leaving the TV or radio on when you’re away.
  • Having a friend or neighbor come over to walk or play with your dog while you’re gone.
  • Giving your dog a high value treat or a toy before you leave, so that they look forward to your departure.

Annoyance or Irritation

Filo howls in response to church bells.

If your dog howls in response to certain noises, it may be because those noises are irritating their sensitive ears. This is why some common howling triggers include sirens, alarms, and some musical instruments. Whether the sound is hurting your dog’s ears or simply inspiring them to add their own voice to the chorus may be unclear. But if you suspect your pet is suffering, try to find a way to protect them from the noises that bother them.

Puppy Howling
This little Jack is home for the first time and howling.

Puppy howling is cute, but it can turn into a habit. Puppies may howl because they’re lonely, scared, or simply want attention. They often howl at night. Your first instinct may be to rush to their assistance, but remember, if they learn that howling will bring you running, they may do it more often — to the point where it isn’t cute anymore.

Is Your JRT a Howlin’ Jack?

Does your dog like to get a good howl going? Or do they prefer to keep their powder dry? Either way, we’d love to hear about your howlin’ Jack.

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0, by Zachary Appel, via Flickr

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