The howl’s function is to synchronize and rally the herd for action. Wolves howl most in the late afternoon before a hunting party leaves and in the early morning before setting off again.
Domestic dogs, with the food served by their masters, lead the lives of perpetual puppies, and the need to “strengthen the cohesion of the pack” (howling is their official role) is no longer one of their priorities. The scattering of the herd caused by the howls does not usually occur between them.
The only time that something similar occurs in the daily routine of the domestic dog is when an animal is forcibly separated from its proper place. In that case, it can carry out the “howl of loneliness”, which has the same function as the group howl. Both say: «I (we) am (we are) here… Where are you?
Some male dogs that never howl under normal circumstances have been known to do so in long, brooding, heart-breaking tones when they are firmly separated from an attractive female in heat.
This is not to say that howling is a sexual signal, it is merely another social context in which the basic message is “join me.” This howl message is so powerful that field workers have been able to capture cubs using fake howls.
Settling in a tree and mimicking the howl of adult wolves is sometimes enough to get the wolves to stagger forward to join the howling. Old wolves, however, cannot be fooled by this strategy, which reveals an important extra element in the message of the call.
As they mature, each wolf comes to distinguish the individual identity of the howler. Field workers can identify the various members of the pack they are studying in this way.
There are slight variations in the singsong sequence of the howl, which becomes the signature of a personal tune. Therefore, in this case, the statement is: “It’s me, come join me.” The full message can even provide more details.
Some wolf experts believe that each howl also conveys information about the exact mood of the howlers, as they throw back their heads and express their melancholy voices.
And, since the howling is more common at the borders of the herd’s territory, there also seems to be an element of territorial display here, letting the other groups know that a particular area is occupied and that it is home to a band. organized.
Significantly, the lone wolves, who have drifted away from the pack, do not join the group’s howls from their distant positions. Nor do they try to rejoin their original pack. But they howl on their own from time to time, in cases where the rest of the pack is silent.
If other wolves away from them respond, this causes them to band together and start a new pack in some other unoccupied territory. Returning to the domestic dog, it becomes clear why they are less likely to howl than their wild cousins.
They do not produce social activities. If domestic dogs are concentrated in large groups that bear the resemblance of the organization of the pack, the habit of howling could reappear, as it happens in some professional packs. Likewise, if dogs are kept on their own, or kept away from female dogs in heat, or if they are abandoned and become strays, they may also howl.
But the domestic dog An adult living in the warmth of a loving human family simply does not feel compelled to produce the most haunting of canine screams. There is a funny exception to this last statement and it concerns musical families.
In the days before television, when families allowed themselves to spend the evening singing, certain domestic dogs misinterpreted the signals and assumed that their owners were trying to “unite the pack for a concerted effort.” Excited, they respond to the call of the hunt by throwing their heads back and howling along with the rest of their adoption herd, although they may be frustrated by the negative reactions this generally produces.