Late one evening, Joey and I and Red and Kate were walking the cul de sac. As we came through the shadows on the south side of the street, Joey and Red caught sight of something in the shrubs across the street that intersects with the cul de sac. (Possum, cat, raccoon or rat? Who knows . . . it slithered through the moonlight and shadows faster than I could identify it).
The dogs raced toward it, and then began to howl. Muzzles moonward, they released a pure, haunting howl, filled with loneliness and longing. It went on and on, then suddenly stopped.
Lately, Kate, Vera and I have been trying to inspire howling by howling ourselves. It works sometimes if we do it in a space with an overhang. But when I’m howling, I can’t hear Joey’s howling. Most of the time, I think they are just humoring us.
Howling is one of the least used forms of communication for most dogs.
Much more is known about wolf howls. A wolf howl raises and falls through several sound frequencies. As it bounces off cliffs, boulders trees and valleys it becomes a complex medley that carries much further than barking can. Wolves howl to let other pack members know where they are, to reinforce pack togetherness or to warn encroaching wolves away from their territory.
A numbers of websites have samples of wolf howls, including this You Tube video or this one. Wolf Park, located north of Lafayette, IN, has a library of wolf howls. I find them beautiful, but Joey doesn’t even twist an ear when I play them.
Fred H. Harrington, a professor of ethology at Mount Saint Vincent University in Nova Scotia, wrote in an article, “What’s in a Howl?” that howling is like the glue that holds a pack together. At the same time, a wolf pack has a hierarchical set of permissions regarding which wolf can join in a howling chorus.
My Howler Joey
I think it would be unbearable to live with a dog who howled frequently. But when Joey howls, I love to see that glimpse of his inner wolf.