Myths of Dogs Howling

by Martha Adams
    The mooooon in Jooooon makes me wanna crooooon!

    The mooooon in Jooooon makes me wanna crooooon!

    NA/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

    A dog howling in the night can be disturbing -- it can sound sad and lonely, but it can also elicit fantasies of a red-eyed pack of savage killers in full pursuit in the moonlight. Multiple myths surround this canine custom, and some of them may even be true.

    Full Moon and Loud Mouth

    That dogs howl at the moon is, in and of itself, a myth. Dogs howl for the same reasons their wild cousins do -- communication. Wolves howl, day or night, full moon or dark, to call to pack members separated from the pack, to let other packs know the boundaries of their territory and just for the helluvit, like a community sing. Dogs do it to make contact with other dogs when they're bored or lonely, and often when they hear another sound that resembles a howl: a siren or even a human singing. The moon is completely irrelevant. The "at the moon" part probably comes from the posture they assume when howling -- head back, nose to the sky -- which directs the sound up and out so that it carries over a wider area. These long, drawn-out vocalizations can easily be heard as far as 10 miles away.

    Dogs of Death

    Since Pharaoh ruled in Egypt, dogs howling at night have been regarded by cultures as diverse as the Celts and the Japanese as an omen of doom. To the Welsh, a howling dog on the doorstep meant a death in the house.

    A 9 on the Richter Scale

    It's a widespread belief that dogs howl and show other disturbed behaviors in advance of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches and violent storms. Science is divided on this, with some saying it's just that they can hear sounds better and smell things better than people, while others credit them with a "sixth sense" that warns them to seek safety.

    Werewolf Alert

    There's also a common belief that dogs react to supernatural phenomena and "see" or otherwise perceive spirits, ghosts and demons. They have been depicted in fiction as howling at the approach of a werewolf. Got silver bullets?

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    About the Author

    Martha Adams has been a rodeo rider, zookeeper, veterinary technician and medical transcriptionist/editor. She traveled Europe, Saudi Arabia and Africa. She was a contestant on "Jeopardy" and has published articles in "Llamas" magazine and on the Internet. Adams holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.

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