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Why Do German Shepherds Howl?

Why Do German Shepherds Howl?

Reading time: 8 minutes.

German Shepherds are vocal dogs and if you didn’t know that before, now that your Shepherd is home you are definitely becoming aware of this! So, why do German Shepherds howl?

German Shepherds howl for many reasons. They will howl to help you find your way home, for instance, or to alert you of a stranger on the property. These dogs also howl when they are in pain or even simply to communicate with other dogs in the neighborhood.

It’s actually very much their nature to be this vocal and in this article, we’ll explain howling a bit more in-depth. We’ll touch on topics such as why your Shepherd howls at night, what you can do about it, and even how to teach them to howl on command. Let’s discuss what you need to know about howling!

Why Do German Shepherds Howl?

German Shepherds are definitely on the ‘howly’ side, but this is completely by-design. Remember, these dogs have ‘shepherd’ in their name for a reason – they’re excellent herding animals and those howls help immensely.

Howling keeps away predators and people, protecting the dog’s flock, and it’s one of the many traits that was considered quite useful since the first German Shepherds were bred in 1899. By cross-breeding types of sheep dogs, the goal was to create a smart, herding dog with lots of energy to keep a flock moving and the predators at bay.

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You can definitely train your dog to howl less – don’t worry! We just want to make sure that you know going into this that you will need a bit of patience. These are hardworking, vocal dogs by nature but they are also quite intelligent and willing to learn. Be consistent with your training and patience and you’ll get great results!

Do German Shepherds like to howl?

Sometimes, yes, your Shepherd is having a grand old time howling. As you’ve noticed by now, howls can come up for all kinds of reasons. You’ll get ‘don’t leave’ howls, ‘hey, that’s mine!’ howls, and ‘you’re home… come in now!’ howls.

These last are quite interesting, in that your dog is helping you to find them and subsequently, to find home! They know that you are near, and this type of howling is simply a ‘greeting and a guiding’ all in one adorable and highly-audible package.

A lot of howls will simply be cries for attention, but if your dog is howling and you can’t determine an external cause for it, it could also mean that they are hurt. Howling while you are away at work is also potentially a problem, as Shepherds may suffer from separation anxiety.

If you notice any ‘out of character’ howls or hear about howling in your absence, then it’s best to bring your German Shepherd in to visit the vet for a checkup. This will help to rule out any physical health issues and if it’s anxiety-related, there are calming medications that can help in conjunction with socialization training for your dog.

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Why does my Shepherd howl at night?

Nighttime howling can occur for a few different reasons. For instance, if your dog isn’t getting a minimum of 2 hours of exercise daily, then they might well simply be having problems sleeping and this is making them bark at everything that they hear.

Even if they are getting enough exercise, a visiting stray cat or dog in the yard can cause a bit of howling, but this tends to be infrequent. Regular night howling, however, is often just a case of your dog communicating with other dogs in the neighborhood! Late at night, voices carry, and neighborhood dogs will often take advantage.

Finally, if your dog is new to their family home, then they could well be distressed. If at all possible, it really is best to set them up a crate or a doggy bed in the bedroom so that they can look over and see you. This helps your young Shepherd to feel safe in a new and still frightening place.

This will usually go away within a few days, once your dog sees that their new home is quite safe and they start adjusting to their new ‘pack’.

How do I stop my Shepherd from howling?

It is going to depend on the reason that your Shepherd is howling. For instance, if your Shepherd is howling because they are excited about going outside, then you need to teach them that they’ll have to calm down before you both go out.

Tell your dog to sit, holding a treat in view, and give it to them when they do. Do this consistently whenever it is time to go outside. Tell your dog to sit and wait for them to do so before you put on the harness, give them a treat, and take them outside. With a little practice, your dog will sit and wait every time!

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If your Shepherd is howling at night, move them into your bedroom if you haven’t already. If that’s where they sleep anyway, then you can try tiring them out a bit before bed. Aside from their regular 2 hours of daily exercise, make the last walk of the day one that is longer than usual – your dog will sleep better.

Finally, try to distract them whenever they howl. It takes time, but if you offer them a toy or call them over and give them attention, followed by a treat when they are quiet, then your dog will eventually notice that quiet play gets more treats than howling – which is exactly what you want!

Can my Shepherd howl on command?

Yes, you can teach your German Shepherd to howl on command and it’s an absolute treat to see. It’s also one of the easier commands to teach, provided that you are patient. First, you need to catch your dog in the act of howling or encourage them with a howl yourself.

When your dog howls on their own or by command, say ‘speak’ again and give them a treat. Try to do this a few times every day and within a week or two, your cleaver Shepherd will usually get the idea and will be perfectly happy to howl on command!

Getting them to quiet down is also quite easy. Get a metal can, with a lid, and fill it halfway up with some pennies or other metal bits like nails or bolts. Put the lid on tightly and when your dog howls, say ‘quiet!’ or ‘hush’ and shake the can. Say ‘hush’ again and when your dog is quiet, then they get a treat!

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As with howling on command, quiet can usually be picked up within a week or two by these smart dogs and it can really make a world of difference. Your dog will still let you know when people are around but once you tell them to quiet down or to howl at the intruders, then that’s exactly what they’ll do!

Knowing when a howl requires attention

While most howls are designed to get attention or to chase off predators from your Shepherds ‘territory’, there are times when a howl is also a cry for help. As you learn your dog’s body language, you’ll definitely know the difference, but if your dog is new then it may take a little while.

Short, sharp howls that occur when your dog is excited or active can be indicators of pain. Watch for tensing up of the body or sharp jerks of your dog’s head to look at particular places on themselves.

If they are having a pain that only occurs when they move certain ways, you may have to watch a bit, but you’ll see it, and then it’s time for a vet visit! The vet can also help if your dog is simply howling when you leave and either doesn’t stop or picks right back up after you are gone.

This can be a sign of Separation Anxiety, which occurs sometimes when an owner has to work late hours or if the dog has become a little codependent. Socialization training can help, but you want to get your vet involved as soon as possible.

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German Shepherds – an Audio profile

While we’re on the subject of howls, let’s take a look at some of the other sounds which you can expect from your Shepherd. These dogs are very vocal and if you listen closely, you can often understand quite a bit about what is on their minds. Here are some common Shepherd sounds:

  • Barking – Barking can be playful and sometimes when a Shepherd doesn’t know how to greet a person or another animal, they might simply bark. Having friends over or visiting a local dog park can help with this. If barking is accompanied by raised hackles or body tension, however, then it’s aggression and you’d better pay attention!
  • Sighs – Just like humans, Shepherds sigh when they are comfortable. You’ll hear this sound when your dog settles in to a soft cushion after a long walk or in a spot with a fan or heater nearby. It’s contentment, pure and simple.
  • Groans – Groans, especially in older dogs, often mean that your dog is in pain. Check with your vet to be on the safe side. That way, if something is wrong, you can get an early start on treatment and relief for your furry best friend.
  • Growls – Growls, like barks, can be friendly, so it’s all about the context. If your dog is growling when you or the housecat gets near their food, however, or when a stranger comes inside then you’ll need to train them out of it. Distractions and treat-rewards for ‘calming down’ can make a huge difference.
  • Grunts – Shepherds grunt, often when they are being pushy about wanting something, or even when they are frustrated. If you hear them grunting when getting up or laying down, however, check with your vet to make sure that pain is not the cause.
  • Whines – Some whines are simply about attention. Your dog wants you to take them outside or they’re jealous of a snack that you just gave to the kitty. That said, whining for no apparent reason is worth a trip to the vet to rule out any health issues, as this is one of the top ways they’ll communicate that they’re hurting.
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Some closing words

As you can see, while your Shepherd is definitely wired to howl, this is also an instinct that you can harness and direct. With a little patient training, your German Shepherd will be vocal or quiet on command, and you’ll also learn your dog’s body language well enough to know when a howl is really a red flag!

So, set down a few rules for your dog but always make sure to listen. German Shepherds are clever dogs and once you know them better they can practically speak volumes!