Dog Behaviour Explained: Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Sleep? 17 Apr 2024

Dog Behaviour Explained: Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Sleep?

If you’re concerned about your dog howling in their sleep, you’re not alone. It’s certainly natural to feel worried.

But most of the time, you can figure out the reason behind your dog’s behaviour with a little observation before booking a dreaded trip to the vet.

Just as with most of our pet’s behaviours, there are numerous reasons why they do what they do, including vocalising in their sleep. Sometimes, it’s something simple and innocent, while other times, it may require a bit more attention.

In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of why dogs howl in their sleep and what you can do to help your furry friend.

In this guide:

Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Sleep?

Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Crates?

Is Sleep Howling Normal?

How to Reduce Disruptive Sleep Howling

Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Sleep?

Some breeds of dogs are more vocal than others, but even if your dog isn't known for being a howler usually, they may still howl in their sleep out of the norm.

Here are a few potential explanations for this surprising and sometimes concerning behaviour.

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1) They're Dreaming

This is the most common cause of sleep howling in dogs.

Just like humans, dogs have different sleep patterns and stages that can result in dreams or nightmares. And just like us, they can make noises or speak if they're having a particularly vivid dream.

This cause of howling in their sleep can often be accompanied by dreaming movements such as twitching or shaking, which can be a little unsettling if it's particularly loud or intense.

2) It's Instinctual

Howling is a primal instinct dogs have inherited from their wolf ancestors. In the wild, wolves howl to communicate with the pack over long distances, to signal their presence to other packs, and to bond as a group.

For domestic dogs, this instinctual behaviour might manifest in their sleep when their brain is unconsciously processing their primal instincts.

Even though they’re far removed from their wild counterparts, the genetic predisposition to howl is deeply ingrained and can emerge without the stimulus of the awake state.

3) They're Not Really Asleep

Dogs have more sensitive hearing than we do, so it's possible your pup is reacting to noises you can't hear.

This could be anything from distant sirens to the rustling of leaves outside or even other dogs howling. These noises can trigger their instinctual response to howl, even if they're not fully conscious.

You might find that your dog gets up from their bed shortly after howling if this is the cause, so they can check out their surroundings.

4) It's Medical

Sometimes, howling during sleep can be symptomatic of an underlying medical or neurological issue.

Conditions such as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), which is akin to dementia in humans, can cause disorientation and lead to vocalisations like howling.

Seizure disorders, which disrupt normal brain activity, could also be a culprit, triggering howling as part of the seizure event. In some cases, pain or discomfort, often from conditions such as arthritis or injuries, might cause a dog to howl in their sleep.

If sleep howling is a new or suddenly intensified behaviour, we recommend consulting a veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out these and other possible health concerns.

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Why Do Dogs Howl in Their Crates?

Sometimes, occurrences of your dog howling may be limited to when they’re in their crate. This can be a distressing experience for both the dog and their owner, so it’s important to understand why this may be happening.

1) Crate Training

Crate training involves teaching your dog to see their crate as a safe and comfortable space. However, during the initial stages of training, some dogs might feel confined or isolated, leading to howling as a means of expressing their discomfort or desire for company.

It's essential to ensure that your dog's crate is a positive environment, filled with their favourite toys and perhaps an item of clothing with your scent, to help them feel secure.

Gradually increasing the time they spend in their crate and providing plenty of exercise and attention when they're not crated can also help minimise howling as they adjust to their new space.

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2) They're New to the Home

Bringing a new dog into your home is an exciting time for both you and your pet. However, it can also be a period of stress and anxiety for them, leading to behaviours such as howling in their crate.

When a dog is new to a home, everything is unfamiliar – the sights, smells, and sounds. Their crate, while intended to be a safe haven, might initially feel like a small and isolated space.

Dogs are pack animals by nature, and the separation from their previous environment, human companions, or littermates can trigger anxiety, expressed through howling as a call for attention or to express discomfort. It’s a way for them to communicate their unease with their new situation.

3) Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is among the primary reasons a dog might howl while in their crate, especially if the behaviour occurs predominantly when they're left alone.

Dogs, known for their social nature, may find separation from their owners distressing, leading to manifestations of anxiety through vocal expressions like howling. This can be particularly pronounced in dogs that have a strong bond with their owners or have not been conditioned to spend time alone.

The howl, in this context, serves as a distress signal, an attempt to reconnect with their absent humans.

Effective strategies to mitigate separation anxiety include gradually acclimating them to being alone and providing stimulating toys during isolation. In severe cases, we recommend seeking professional advice to address the underlying anxiety issues.

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Is Sleep Howling Normal?

Howling in their sleep is a fairly normal part of a dog's behaviour, albeit less common than other sounds like whining or barking.

It's important to observe the context in which your dog howls; if it's an occasional incident likely linked to dreaming or external noises, it's usually harmless.

However, if it becomes a regular occurrence that seems to disturb your dog's rest or is accompanied by other signs of distress, it can become a problem.

When Howling at Night is a Cause for Concern

When it comes to sleep howling being a concern, there are several factors to watch out for. By observing these aspects, you can better understand and address the issue effectively.

Some issues include:

Frequency of Howling Excessive howling during the night can be a nuisance and may indicate an underlying medical condition. We recommend booking a vet check.
Duration of the Howling Howling for more than a few seconds could suggest a seizure or neurological disorder.
Signs of Distress Howling, accompanied by distress signs like panting, pacing, or destructive behaviours when awake, may indicate anxiety or stress.
Accompanying Symptoms Sleep howling with symptoms like drooling, unresponsiveness, or loss of bladder and bowel control could signify a serious medical emergency.


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How to Reduce Disruptive Sleep Howling

If your dog's sleep howling is becoming disruptive to your own sleep or other pets in the household, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the frequency of howling.

Rule Out Medical Issues

Before settling on the assumption that your dog's nighttime howling is a behavioural quirk, it's critical to eliminate any potential medical issues.

A thorough check-up by your vet can determine whether your dog's nocturnal vocalisations are due to discomfort, illness, or a more serious condition such as seizure disorders or canine cognitive dysfunction.

Note: regular health check-ups can preemptively catch issues before they manifest into symptoms like sleep howling. Be proactive about your dog's health to ensure they get the restful, peaceful sleep they deserve.


Exercise Your Dog Properly

Adequate exercise is key for your dog's overall well-being and can significantly impact their sleep quality. A well-exercised dog is likely to experience deeper sleep, reducing the chances of sleep disturbances like howling.

Engaging in regular physical activities burns off excess energy that might otherwise leave your dog restless at night.

Also, exercise helps to alleviate anxiety and stress, which can be a triggering factor for nocturnal vocalisations.

By incorporating a consistent exercise routine that suits your dog's breed, age, and health status, you give them the right outlet for their energy and help prepare their body and mind for a peaceful night's rest.

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Establish a Calming Bedtime Routine

Just as we need to wind down before bed to get the most restful sleep possible, your dog needs a calming bedtime routine to help them learn to switch off and settle into a deeper sleep.

  1. Start by setting a regular bedtime and taking your dog out for a toilet break.
  2. Follow up with some gentle petting and a soft voice to signify it's time to wind down.
  3. Give them a favourite toy or blanket to cuddle with in their bed.
  4. Finally, ensure the room is quiet and the lights are low to create an ideal sleeping environment.

This routine will signal to your dog that the day is ending, easing them into a peaceful night's sleep that's restful and reduces the occurrence of night howling.

Create a Safe & Comfortable Sleeping Environment

Creating a safe and comfortable sleeping environment is vital for reducing your dog's sleep disturbances, including howling.

A cosy dog bed that provides ample support and warmth can significantly improve your pet's sleep quality.

The use of orthopaedic beds, such as our Senior Gold 7+ Dog Beds, especially for older dogs with joint issues, or even heated beds for those that get cold easily, can reduce the discomfort that might lead to nighttime vocalisations.

Also, a dedicated bed gives your dog a sense of security and belonging, which can ease anxiety-induced howling.

If you have a particularly anxious dog, having them sleep in a crate can help them feel more secure.

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Summary: Understanding Your Pup’s Night Howling

Howling pups in the night certainly isn’t an uncommon behaviour, and there could be a range of reasons as to why they feel the need to vocalise.

Dreaming, medical issues, boredom, or anxiety can all play a role in your dog’s nighttime howling, and it’s important to pay attention to their behaviour and try to address any underlying causes.

If you notice any other signs that point towards a clear cause, like whining or barking during the day, it’s important to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any potential medical concerns.

However, in most cases, establishing a routine and providing your pup with plenty of attention and mental stimulation can help reduce nighttime howling.

If you're ever unsure about your dog's behaviour or their health, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional for guidance.

For more insights into dog behaviours and to learn how to best care for your furry friend, explore the rest of our blog!


Certain breeds are more prone to howling due to their ancestry and breeding purposes. Breeds with a strong hunting heritage, like Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Bloodhounds, are known for their vocal tendencies.

Similarly, breeds descended from wolves, such as Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and other northern types, have howling deeply ingrained in their communication repertoire.

Generally, it's best not to wake your dog during a dream. Like humans, dogs cycle through stages of sleep and waking them can be disorienting. If your dog is having a nightmare, they might wake up startled or defensive, resulting in nipping.

If you must wake your dog when they're dreaming, we recommend doing so from a distance by clapping or calling their name.

Generally, it's advisable to avoid disturbing your dog's sleep. Dogs, much like humans, can be startled if woken unexpectedly, which could lead to stress or aggression.

If you want to comfort your dog, wait until they awake naturally before showing affection, although we know it's hard to resist when they look so adorable.

Just like humans, dogs dream about their daily experiences. Canine dreams might involve chasing squirrels, playing with their favourite toy, or activities from their day.

Complex brain patterns during sleep suggest that dogs, particularly puppies and senior dogs, have vivid dreams that are quite similar to ours.