How to Teach Your ESA Dog to Howl
7 min read
Dogs employ different methods of communication, many of which (especially of the non-verbal variety) are generally lost on humans. Still, there is one less common behavior that tends to spark fascination in many dog owners: the wolfish howl.
Some dog breeds, such as Huskies and Basset Hounds, naturally love to howl – much to the annoyance of some neighbors! Howling is a way of communicating with other dogs, usually as a means to regroup a lost member of the pack or to strengthen a canine bond, not unlike a group of people singing together.
Other breeds, however, are not known for performing this type of behavior unprompted. Coincidentally, quite a few of these breeds are popular choices for becoming emotional support animals, such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Greyhounds.
Are you an ESA dog owner wishing to train their pet to howl like its wolf cousins? Not all hope is lost. Here we break down how to teach your ESA dog to howl, in 4 easy steps.
Look for a trigger
You can try different sounds and there's a chance that you will find the right trigger.
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If you want to train your ESA dog to howl, eliciting the first sign of this behavior is generally going to be the longest, hardest step to master. You might have caught your pup howling at the window once or twice; this is usually a sign of another dog walking by that your pet wants to call the attention of. Unfortunately, the chances of this behavior repeating when you’re around to hear it are quite slim, so you might prefer to trigger the howl yourself, rather than just wait for it. You can trigger this behavior in a number of ways:
Put some music on
Playing recorded music, or even playing an instrument yourself, is one of the most common ways of triggering a dog’s howl. It might be worth to go through a number of different songs, instruments, and genres before finding the one specific sound that can make your dog want to howl. High-pitched noises, which dogs are more inclined to be sensitive to, will be your best bet.
Play a video
If no type of music seems to be encouraging your pup to howl, you might want to look up YouTube videos of other dogs howling. Having your dog watch these videos can help tap into its natural instincts so that it will be inclined to reply to the virtual dog’s call. A nature documentary on wolves might also do the trick!
You can also bring the howling to real-life by mimicking the sound yourself. It can be quite hard not to feel silly when howling at your dog, but this is another trick that has been shown to work. Dogs are naturally prone to imitating their owner’s (or alpha’s) actions, so this could be the successful trigger that will push your ESA dog to howl – even if just as a sign of submission and respect for you. You can also try making other kinds of high-pitched, unusual noises that might catch your dog’s interest, such as loud whistling and falsetto singing.
The last option we would suggest is to expose your pup to the blaring sound of sirens. Contrary to popular belief, hearing sirens won’t necessarily hurt your dog’s delicate hears. If a pup starts howling as a response to hearing sirens, this can be attributed to the specific frequency emitted by a fire truck or police car, which can trigger some dog’s primal instincts. A siren going off in the distance can easily be read as a fellow dog in distress howling somewhere far away, and it’s in your pup’s wolfish DNA to find a lost pack member and regroup!
You can expose your ESA dog to this sound by playing a video featuring sirens, or even by downloading a phone app that can play the siren sound on command. Put your chosen playing device in another room and see what happens!
This is where things get interesting. Once you have found a sound or action that triggers your dog’s howling, it’s time to reinforce the behavior with some old-school training techniques.
As soon as your pup starts howling, get closer to it and say your chosen command out loud, making sure your dog is able to hear you. Your chosen command might be “howl!” or “sing!” – just make sure you are consistent with what you choose to say. Get ready to repeat that command many, many times. It will take at least a couple of weeks, depending on your dog’s temperament of course, before it is able to associate your command with the howling sound and action. You can also opt for a non-verbal cue instead, such as snapping your fingers or clapping. The process of the association will be exactly the same.
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You should also keep in mind that a dog’s attention span is quite limited, no matter how obedient or well-behaved your particular pet might be. It is not recommended to have training sessions lasting longer than 10 minutes at the time. If you wish to extend your pup’s training time to longer than 15 minutes, you will likely start to experience clear signs of boredom and frustration, such as barking or running off. Keep the sessions short and sweet so you can both have fun!
A reward should be distinctly associated with the action that the dog is supposed to take.
Keep a bunch of treats at hand to reward your dog as it starts howling. This technique should be used in conjunction with your command so that your pet will associate howling and your cue with its favorite snack. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you are rewarding the behavior you want to induce, so you should be limiting treats to the howling training sessions only.
The prospect of not having any other behavior but start howling to get its dose of treats will easily incentivize your ESA dog to respond to your command. Once again, the key is being patient. This reward method is a type of positive reinforcement that can take weeks to start showing results. In addition, some breeds might get stressed when howling, especially if you try to make them do it. That is why the practice of little rewards for executing howling would be a great step towards your pet being calm.
Wean off and practice
Practice really does make perfect. Once you start seeing results, you will want to start slowly weaning your dog off the treats, so that howling on command can become a fully trained behavior. Your training sessions should continue with the same consistency as before, with the small tweak of not rewarding your pup with a treat every time he performs. You can start by only rewarding it half of the time, then a quarter until it is completely ready to let go of the treats while continuing to respond to your command.
Of course, you are free to keep giving your pet treats every time it howls at your command, but we would not recommend this. Treating your pup too often can easily lead to overfeeding and unhealthy weight gain while giving out rewards on a regular basis can make them lose their initial appeal. You don’t want treats to become an expectation like they’re your pet’s daily breakfast!
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Can all ESA dogs learn to howl?
It may take a long time to learn your ESA dog to howl.
If your pup is still refusing to howl, even after following these steps for several weeks, it might actually be hiding the fact that it’s able to. If you have ever gotten upset at your pet for making too much noise, it might be reticent to show its howling, even if prompted to. You can make sure your pup is not hiding its vocal talents from you by setting up a camera in the house while you are away. Watch the recording back and see if you can catch them howling!
If you believe you have really tried it all, you can now consider the option that your dog breed may naturally not be able to howl. Some of the quieter ESA breeds might never learn as the howling behavior is simply not in their DNA, so you might want to quickly check with your vet to confirm.
One important thing to always keep in mind while teaching your ESA dog to howl is that dogs are not naturally predisposed to follow commands. That is the reason why guide dogs are so special in the first place. Training a dog to perform any kind of behavior as a response to the owner’s cue can be a long, strenuous process for the human and the animal alike. You should be arming yourself with a great amount of patience before starting!
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