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Why Your Dog Howls When Your Baby Cries

Is your dog showing empathy? Or just plain annoyance?

by Karen B. London, PhD
November 4, 2010
Asian baby at home with howling dog
Bo Bo / Stocksy

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Bringing a new baby home can be difficult for everyone — including your dog. They’re not used to the tiny creature who somehow makes a lot of noise. If your dog howls when your baby cries, you’re not alone. A host of YouTube videos shows dogs and babies whining and crying together. What I find interesting about these videos is the dogs’ vocalizations sometimes have a calming effect on the babies.

In the video below, a dog is howling while a baby cries in a bassinet, and it seems as though the baby stops crying in response to the dog’s vocalizations.

In the next video, the dog’s howling doesn’t seem to appease the baby’s crying.

So, what’s going on in these videos? There are many reasons why dogs howl, including when they are stressed, to alert you, and in response to other long, loud noises. It’s really anybody’s guess what is going on in these interactions. There are a lot of people commenting on them, but without knowing more about the contexts and the individuals involved, it’s just guesswork. 

To really know what was happening, I would need to know if the baby and the dog usually act like this or if it was just a one-time event. I’d also want to know what works for soothing the babies when the dogs aren’t involved, and what other sounds or situations make the dogs howl.

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Here are some possibilities about what is going on, but as I said, it’s not possible to know for certain which explanations are correct. It’s highly likely that a totally different interpretation is the right one.

Possible reasons for the baby's response:

  • The baby stops crying because he likes the howling.

  • The baby stops crying because he likes any loud noise.

  • The baby stops crying because the howling startles him.

  • The cessation of the baby’s crying has nothing to do with the howling at all.

Possible reasons for the dog's response:

  • The dog howls because they like to join in with the baby’s “howling.”

  • The dog howls because they have learned that this gets the baby to quiet down.

  • The dog howls because they don’t like being near the baby.

  • The dog howls because they’re trying to get a human’s attention and say: (“Pick up the baby and make it stop!”)

karen london

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.