Videos of dogs singing along to music seem to be all the rage lately... it's adorable! Who knew our dogs could possess so much talent?!
But are these dogs really singing? We asked Fi's vet expert, Dr. Jeff, for the full scoop on this phenomenon:
First of all, can dogs sing?
When dogs "sing", they’re actually howling. Dogs descended from wolves, so howling is a case in which they maintain this wolflike instinctive behavior.
Social media has blown up with videos of dogs singing - why do they do this?
Like their wolf ancestors, dogs “sing,” or howl, for many different reasons. They use howling to announce their location, gather the pack together, announce impending danger if, for example, a predator is coming, and also as a form of celebration. It’s a pack behavior: When one dog starts to howl, others follow, and ultimately you get the whole pack howling together.
It seems as though certain pitches can trigger a howl, with sirens being one prominent example. If you live in an area where a fire truck comes by, it’s common for many dogs to start howling. Because of pack behavior, you will have a number of them join in and start to howl as well. This siren-dog behavior is very similar to a pack of wolves.
Some people assume that dogs howl because of sounds that hurt their ears, but that’s not typically the case. Rather, howling is typically due to their natural instinct to join in when they hear another howl or a certain pitch like a siren.
So, the triggers for howling are hearing a certain pitch or another dog howling, or sometimes dogs will use howling to announce excitement or anxiety. Even boredom or loneliness can be a trigger.
Can all dogs do this or just certain breeds?
There are certain breeds that seem to be better at howling— beagles and a lot of the hunting hounds as well as Malamutes, or sled dogs, are pretty good at it. While it can be rarer for other breeds, it’s ultimately pitch-related; when dogs of any breed hear a really loud pitch like a siren, they might try to sing along.
How can I train my dogs to do this?
Our behavior in response to dogs’ howling will dictate how much more they howl. The reason why we’re seeing all of these social media posts is because the owners get excited and sometimes even sing along. Since dogs are social creatures, they get excited and sing even more. Some dogs learn how to put different howling tones together so that it sounds like “I love you” or “mama,” and the positive reactions to that reinforce that behavior.
On the flip side, if you are trying to discourage the behavior, you will want to desensitize them to whichever sound causes the howling. This is done through positive rewards for not howling. For example, let’s say that a neighbor starts to complain about your dog howling whenever a siren passes in the distance. Find a recording of that sound and start playing it very, very faintly, rewarding the nonresponse. The dog won’t respond until it gets to a certain pitch. Keep turning the volume on your device up very slowly, continually rewarding the nonresponse, until you get to the point where you can play it loudly.
If you think the behavior is cute, encourage it! If you want to discourage it, desensitize and counter-condition to get rid of the howling.
Do they enjoy it?
Dogs are social creatures, and howling is a behavior that’s very social pack-oriented. Unless they are doing it specifically to signal danger such as in the case of an attack, they are likely enjoying it, especially if there’s a happy owner singing along.
What else should dog owners know?
Howling is a fun, natural phenomenon that demonstrates how dogs are social animals. If you want to try to teach your dog to “sing,” find a sound or a pitch that seems to stimulate the behavior and then start singing along and positively reinforcing the singing. By putting a word to name the behavior, whether “sing with mom” or “sing with pops,” you could even get them to start doing it on command through positive rewards.