While not all Akitas howl, many do and therefore owners of those dogs question why an Akita may howl like a wolf.
To find the answer to that, we actually do need to look to wolves. Much research has been done to understand the vocal communications of the wild wolf. Their vocal cries are called out in modulating tones and fluctuating pitches to communicate various messages to their pack. In order for those messages to be received by other wolves that are possibly a mile away or even further, a howl is used which carries over a much further distance than a simple bark or growl would.
Howling is also used to send warnings to possible foes or trespassers that may intend to encroach on territory.
An Akita dog will howl for these same reasons - plus a few others since - since they are of course domesticated animals but with a genetic link to the wolf. (See also: Akita VS Wolf)
What A Howl Does NOT Mean
It is important to note that when an Akita howls this is not a threatening vocalization in any direct way. Howls are meant to be carried over long distances. If an Akita is feeling closely threatened and is contemplating a possible physical move to protect himself, his human family or what he considers to be his territory, he will growl. And this is after he silently weighs all considerations.
A howl is also not vocalized if an Akita is after prey of any sort. To an Akita, any small animal may be considered prey including cats, rodents, squirrels, rabbits, birds, raccoons, beaver and other smaller wildlife critters.
If an Akita sets his sights on prey, it is done without any howling, as this strictly goes against all Akita instinct that has been bred into the bloodline for generations.
The Akita breed was developed to be a silent hunter that will stay low to the ground and as quiet as possible in this sort of situation.
With this said, an Akita may indeed howl or bay quite loudly and with enthusiasm. The chest widens, head is held back and a high pitched guttural howl will be sung out like a siren.
It may seem random or it may happen during certain times (each morning or each evening, for example). But there is always a reason.
Let's look at the 4 reasons an Akita howls:
1- Call out to other dogs. While the Akita has a reputation for not tolerating other dogs, this is often grossly overstated (though there can be some aggression in certain circumstances). It is not uncommon for an Akita to have a strong canine instinct to howl out to any other dogs that may be in the immediate area.
This is not be done to send out an all-encompassing welcome signal; however it can be done out of curiosity in regard to how many other dogs are in the area and if the howl is returned, that dog's intentions.
Many Akita dogs send out a howl to get a read on the neighborhood and then once receiving confirmation of other dogs or verification that others are not in the area, will then relax and go about his business. When an Akita howls for this reason, it is almost entirely done outside where those calls can be heard for miles. (Recording of wolf howls have made from up to 6 miles away and the average canine howl will carry for a minimum of 1 mile and an average of 2 to 3).
This call may be done at certain times such as each morning when the Akita is brought outside for house training purposes or each evening to conclude an evening walk. The Akita may fall into a habit of howling out at certain times that he has determined will offer him the best chances of receiving confirmation.
2- In response to other loud noises. Certainly an Akita will howl back if he hears a call out from another dog. Again, this is not to suggest that he is signaling that he wishes to make friendly contact with the sender. But rather, his reply howl is to signal that he does indeed reside in the area and his howl is akin to saying "Yes, I AM here." This breed is not one to back down and stay hidden to another dog. The howl in this case is the Akita's method of reiterating his claim to his territory and sending a clear and loud vocalization that he IS present and is in his proper place with his pack (human family members).
It is also common for sirens (fire trucks, police vehicles, ambulance) to cause an Akita to let out a howl. These sorts of sirens are very high pitches of course and ring out for miles. While some will say that dogs howl at sirens because they think that the noise is that of another dog, that is simply nonsense. Canines are quite intelligent creatures and can certainly distinguish another dog's howl from an inanimate mechanical noise.
The reason that Akitas howl at sirens is because the high pitch is perceived to be what it is: a call out that sends the signal, "Beware and stand guard, I am approaching!" The purpose of siren - for cars and pedestrians get out of the way for a fast approaching emergency vehicle- is not lost on the Akita. He is aware that a high pitched sound is a call out to stand guard and take heed. And he does just that by howling back his reply of "I hear your approach and I am not afraid to state that I am here with my pack."
Therefore, while of course an Akita dog cannot understand the complexity of what a siren truly means and all that it is comprised of, he DOES have an understanding of the tone and implication of the noise and will howl in response.
Any loud, wailing noise can trigger an Akita to howl in reply since they all send out the same intonation. This includes musical instruments, loud singing, etc.
3- As a call to his pack leader. The canine instinct to be part of a pack is exceedingly strong with the Akita breed. The pack makes sense. The pack keeps his world logical. It is a great honor for an Akita dog to be accepted into a pack and to reside alongside his pack leader.
With proper training (command and obedience), an Akita is unquestionably aware that his human is the unwavering pack leader. When that human leaves (goes to work, etc.) this can be a disturbing event. An Akita may howl out to his owner, metaphorically asking and saying, "Where are you going? Please clarify when you will return!"
Owners can respond to this by making casual eye contact and speaking out a friendly, reaffirming message. Anything said with a confident tone to show leadership will be interpreted to mean, "I will be back!" This can make an Akita puppy or dog feel a bit more at ease that his pack leader did respond and noticed his call out.
4- An attempt to break isolation. If an Akita is left home alone for too long of a time or is left outside in the yard while his humans are in the house, this can trigger howling as well. Unlike the howl that calls out to possible trespassers or to gain an understanding of what or whom may be out in the area, this sort of howl sends out one long, fraught message of, "I want to be with my pack!" The howl is a loud cry for an Akita's family to come back to him OR to allow him into the den (the house).
While most owners must be gone for work for a good portion of the day and cannot stay home to keep their dog company, it is important to include an Akita puppy or dog in as much family activity as possible. Even if an Akita does not show much interest, you can bet your last dollar that he or she is extremely content just to be nearby silently watching and feeling at ease to be with his pack.
Creating a good environment for when the Akita is left home alone is important as well. Never assume that an Akita is satisfied with sitting on watch with nothing to keep his interest. Boredom can quickly set in. The right soothing toy for pups or the correct distraction toy for adults help to break up the monotony of being alone for hours. If you'd like some recommendations for toys that can stand up to the Akita's bite force, you may wish to have a look at 'Toys- Separation Anxiety- Pups' and/or 'Toys-Adults' in the Akita Specialty Shoppe.
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