Dogs 'genetically closer' to wolves more likely to howl

Dogs 'genetically closer' to wolves more likely to howl

Dogs with a closer genetic link to wolves are more likely to howl in response to hearing a wolf howl, researchers have found.

In the wild, wolves use howling for long-distance communication with others and to mark territory boundaries. They also howl to define the position of the other wolves, which then reply with howling.

Among their domesticated relatives, all dogs are capable of howling but is more prominent in certain breeds. For example, wolf-like sled dogs tend to howl frequently, even in ‘reply’ to other sounds like bells, sirens or music, while others may never howl during their life.

To learn more about dog howling, researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary played a recording of wolf howls to 68 purebred family dogs from 28 breeds and observed their reactions.

“According to our results, breeds which are genetically more similar to wolves (‘ancient breeds’) are more prone to reply with their own howls to wolf howl playbacks,” said Fanni Lehoczki, the first author of the study. “On the other hand, breeds more distantly related to wolves (‘modern breeds’) typically reacted with barking instead of howls.”

It seems that howling lost its functionality due to the changed social environment, Lehoczki explained.

Breeds that howl more also showed more stress-related behaviours in this situation, particularly among older dogs, which may indicate a fear reaction. This is believed to be because ancient breeds can process the information encoded in wolf howls better than modern breeds.

“Thus, ancient breeds of our study might become stressed by intruding on a pack’s territory and use howling for the sake of avoidance, just as wolves do,” added Tamás Faragó, senior author of the study.

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