The German shepherd is a highly intelligent, regal breed that is favored around the world for their strength and athleticism. They are also very intuitive and at times it’s almost as if they can communicate through their body language and vocalizations.
If you’ve spent any time around a German shepherd then you know they can make a wide range of sounds. It’s common for them to have a variety of barks, such as a warning bark, an alert, a playful yap, and even desperate ‘I have go outside right now’ yip.
They will also growl for different reasons. The most serious growl is their fierce warning growl. But they also will growl to communicate pleasure, such as during a nice back scratch, or growl to get attention, or they may growl when they want to play. Each growl has a different pitch and the accompanying body language should be really easy to read.
Another sound that German shepherds make is the howl. The howl is easily the most hair-raising sound that they make. The wolf-like sound can’t be missed. It’s a sound that comes naturally to them and they do it for many reasons, such as:
- Triggered by sounds, such as sirens, trains, the television, or music
- When communicating with other animals, think about how all the neighbor dogs will howl together
- Alerting to nearby wildlife or mimicking coyotes
- When sick or injured
- When recovering from anesthesia
- During times of loneliness
- Due to separation anxiety
- To get attention
Howling due to a trigger
Most of the time, their howling is simply harmless communication that ends as quickly as it begins. You might notice it when the fire department drives by with sirens blaring, or a certain commercial comes on the television, or during part of a particular song.
This howl can be fun and is comical to watch. The dog is usually in a good state of mind and not stressed out about anything that’s going on. They seem to enjoy their howling time and then move onto their normal dog business.
Howling at other dogs or wildlife
If their howling becomes more frequent, it is usually due to the neighborhood dogs howling or even nearby wildlife making animal sounds. This type of howling is usually easy to identify because there is an entire chorus of dogs howling at the same time. The dog may be relaxed or tense depending on what is going on or if they are howling in an attempt to alert their owner.
Howling to get attention
Dogs might also howl to get attention. This usually happens when they are separated from their owners in another room, crate, outside, or even at another location, such as the vet or while boarding. If this howling becomes a problem, it’s important not to give the dog what it wants (to be in, out, etc) as this will reward the behavior and cause it to happen more frequently. However, if you’ve forgotten your pup and they howl for attention, by letting them in or out its doubtful you’d be creating a bad habit. For all other times though, it’s best to just ignore them and avoid giving them positive or negative reinforcement or attention.
Howl as a form of begging
The begging howl is less common but it can happen in a way similar to a begging bark. In this case, the dog is also howling to get attention and beg for what it wants, such as a toy or treat. Never give the begging dog the treat or attention while they howl unless you want it to become a habit. German shepherds are super smart and once they realize their howling will work in their favor, they’ll use it to get what they want all the time.
Howling due to separation anxiety
Sadly, German shepherds will sometimes howl when they have separation anxiety. This howling happens when their owners are away from home and can go on for hours. German shepherds with separation anxiety usually exhibit accompanying behaviors such as destructive chewing, pacing, panting, inappropriate elimination, stress, depression, escaping, and more. Separation anxiety is a serious problem that needs to be addressed for the health and wellbeing of the dog. It’s best to talk to your vet and an animal behaviorist if you need help managing your dog’s separation anxiety.
Howling due to illness or injury
If you’ve spent any time in an animal hospital you’ve heard the heartbreaking sounds of howling sick or injured dogs. If a dog begins to howl for no apparent reason, especially when accompanied with a behavior change, it could be a signal that they need medical attention.
Some signs to watch for include change in appetite, change in bowl habits, licking one area of the body, alienating themselves, becoming needier, avoidance of touch, change in gait, holding the ears back, panting, vomiting, fever, and hiding are all big signals that the dog is in some sort of distress and needs to be examined by a vet.
Unleashing their inner wolf
Most of the time howling is just a German shepherd channeling their inner wolf and letting some of their ancient lineage out. They enjoy howling and it can be entertaining to listen to them yowl. Howling is a totally normal dog behavior that many breeds enjoy, some more than others.
In some cases, howling can be a signal that something more serious is going on. It could be an alert or a sign of distress. In these cases, their body language and the entire situation that is going on at the time must be looked at to determine why they are howling to determine if they need some sort of help.
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