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Canine Behavior/New howling???


QUESTION: Hi, my dog Cubbie is 9 years old and we got her from the shelter when she was a puppy. Last week my boyfriend and I made a fire in the backyard and we were sitting by it when we heard a strange sound coming from inside the house. After a few minutes we realised Cubbie was inside howling. In nine years, I've never ONCE seen or heard her howl.

Tonight, I was playing with my ferrets upstairs and I heard a weird noise coming from the living room. I thought it was my boyfriend teasing me or something, and came out of the room and found out he wasn't in the house and that sound was Cubbie howling again.

I must say it's extremely strange to hear her howl, and it seems she only does it when I'm not around, or when she thinks I'm not around. For all I know, she could be sitting at home howling during the day! But is there any reason she would just start howling at this point in her life when we're not in the room with her? She's healthy and playful otherwise and she loves going for long walks and playing at the dog park with other dogs.
Thank you!

ANSWER: First of all, I apologize for the late response. Just curious, what kind of dog is she? My first thought was that she may be in pain since this seems such a sudden new development. Does she handle walks okay? Or get sore afterwards?

My second thought is if she is actually howling at something. Have you had a chance to see her before she sees you to get an idea of what direction she is facing?

I'm honestly not sure if it's related to you or not as you say this is something completely new. Has she ever suffered from separation anxiety? Do you have any neighbors that you could ask to find out if she is howling during the day?

My gut says this could be a phase of her aging and she's not sure how to handle it. Maybe something is changing on the inside, such as the possibility of losing her hearing or eyesight. When was the last time she saw her veterinarian?

If it turns out this is a new phase for her, treat it like it's not big deal. Don't over-comfort because that could make things worse. Keep the same routine she's used to.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for getting back to me :o)

She's a black lab mix (we got her from the shelter when she was a puppy so we don't know for sure exactly what breeds are in there).

When we got her, we got her so our dog at the time would have someone to play with. That dog died last December (at age 17) so I'm wondering if this is related to that, since she's never been the only dog in the house before then.

She DOES have separation anxiety- she destroyed our couch. We tried to put her in her crate (which she used to LOVE, she used to just hang out in there) but she actually destroyed the crate too. So I got her some of those busy dog toys for her to chew and figure out but she doesn't touch them.

She's not at all sore or in pain. I take her to the dog park and she runs around like crazy and I take her for long walks/hikes and she doesn't seem to have any discomfort after or during.

I haven't been able to catch her howling before she sees me. As soon as she hears me she stops and when she sees me she wags her tail and pretends nothing happened.

She actually did it again a couple days ago, while I was upstairs and had the door closed. When I'm downstairs with the door closed, she doesn't do it. Only when I'm upstairs or like I said, outside. It also only happens at night (that I'm aware of). Our neighbors are separated enough from our house that they wouldn't be able to hear her anyway.

So, do you think it might have something to do with losing our other dog? It's been almost a year so maybe she feels like it's getting close to that time with the weather and stuff and it reminded her of it? I don't know if that just sounds silly? But before our other dog died, Cubbie never had any destructive behaviors at all.
Thank you!

It absolutely could be related, dogs realize more than we think they do. Regardless, we need to help her understand her behavior is not appreciated. What exactly do you do when you walk into the room and she stops? I would do a couple of things as it seems like she's doing this for attention and if you give her attention, she getting what she wants and will continue to do so. I would either walk into the room and walk right back out without giving her the time of day or walk in a walk right past her then turn around and walk back out. This will confuse her to no other as she will be anticipating your attention. The hard part is when to realize that it's time to reward for good behavior...

I really a new approach I learned called forced relaxation. The object is to reward them when they are doing absolutely nothing which teaches them that it's okay to do absolutely nothing! Basically, have treats with you and when you just happen to walk by and she is already laying down, give her a treat and a reinforcement command such as "good stay" or something similar and place the treat directly in front of her on the floor. I have seen this work wonders on high anxiety dogs, so I'm curious to see how it would work in this situation.

Keep me posted!  

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Melissa Burg, RVT/Behavior Consultant


I have experience with multiple obedience issues, including anxiety, different types of aggression, introductions to a new pet and basic obedience situations, such as housebreaking, excessive leash pulling and excessive barking. There are several approaches to each behavior issue, depending on the animal's environment, as well as the breed, sex and age. I can also help you decide whether the problem sounds medical or behavioral.


I recently graduated with a Veterinary Technician degree with an emphasis in behavior and obedience training. I spent 5 years working in animal shelters where I trained shelter dogs in basic obedience and corrected behavior issues and educated adopting owners how to continue the training at home.

"Pawfect Pets;" a weekly column on canine and feline health and behavior tips.

Associate's Degree in Veterinary Technology from Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa.

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