White Asian Shepherd looking at the full moon preparing to howl

Why Do Dogs Howl at the Moon?

Last updated on June 18th, 2023 at 02:22 pm

Does it seem that dogs howl more on nights with a full moon? Perhaps you hear coyotes and wolves, which remind you of the Halloween legends we grew up with. But do dogs actually howl at the moon, or is something else going on?

Dogs often howl more during a full moon. But they may not be howling at the moon itself, but because of it. Dogs howl more during a full moon because they are sensitive to the magnetic changes a full moon has on the Earth’s axis. Additionally, they are more aware of, and can quickly spot, critters scurrying around under the brightness of a full moon. The presence of small prey running around triggers dogs to howl and alert others.

Keep reading to learn more about the truth and myths of dogs howling at the moon.

Why the Moon Influences Dog Behavior and Prompts Howling

Scientific Studies

Dogs can be sensitive to magnetic changes in our Earth’s axis. The moon provides additional brightness and impacts circadian cycles. The pull of the moon’s weak gravity as it moves through the phases of a new moon to a full moon also pulls at us and may cause slight changes in our sleeping cycles. However, these are minor and mostly not noticeable in today’s modern world, which uses artificial light.

But animals can be a little more impacted than humans as their internal clocks may be slightly influenced by the full moon’s pull and the way it brightens the sky. This can cause a dog to be more awake and alert during a full moon, leading to howling.

According to almanac.com, animals can be impacted by the moon’s monthly cycles, “Our sleeping patterns are controlled by our natural circadian rhythms— the day and night cycles driven by Earth orbiting the Sun. But there are also circalunar rhythms, which are tied to lunar cycles. Certainly, some animals will respond to a circadian rhythm and a lunar clock.”

The moon also impacts the navigational behavior and migration of many animals, such as birds. Although much more about this behavior is yet to be learned, a small study published by ScienceDaily found that dogs can also be impacted by the earth’s magnetic changes:The emerging picture of the analysis of the categorized data was surprising: dogs prefer a body-alignment along the magnetic north-south axis, but only during periods of calm magnetic field conditions.”

The researchers were still determining how dogs used this magnetic influence. But a full moon could disrupt the calmness of the magnetic field, causing them to be more hyper-alert and more prone to howling.

Nocturnal Behavior of Dogs and their Ancestors, the Wolves

Wolves were primarily nocturnal animals. They use the darkness of night to find prey and take it home to feed their pack. Therefore, wolves are often out and about on dark and moonlight nights. They usually howl to communicate to their pack members that they have found food.

When dogs howl to let other dogs know of their discoveries, they will lift their head toward a full moon, not to look at it, but to enable better vocalization by opening up their larynx. Therefore, what may appear to be a wolf or a dog looking at the moon is a natural way to vocalize better.

Dogs evolved from wolves and carry this instinctive behavior to let other dogs know about something important. In light illumination from a full moon, a dog is more likely to discover small animals and regard them as prey.

Superstition, Halloween and Other Myths About Wolves and Dogs Howling at the Moon

Black dog wearing a bat costume and tan dog wearing a witches hat for halloween.
Georgia and Charlotte in their Halloween Costumes

Myths about the full moon and how they affect humans and animals have abounded for hundreds of years. The moon’s brightness brings a wariness of the night and a heightened sense of our surroundings. And this leads to tall tales about how the moon shines bright on frightening and horrific creatures. Werewolves were considered half-man and half-wolf creatures who could not resist killing and devouring humans who dared to enter their territory during a full moon.

Legendary tales about the mythical werewolf and how it was impacted by the full moon began in ancient Greek mythology. Stories about half-human/half-wolf werewolves reemerged over 800 hundred years ago during the Middle Ages and ran parallel with the persecution of so-called witches. But they are now considered to be fictitious folklore.

These passed-down stories make for great entertainment and are the subject of numerous books and movies. And they continue to be a favorite story to tell during Halloween.

Other Reasons Why Your Dog May Howl at Night

Again, if your dog is howling at night, specifically during a full moon, he is probably not howling at the moon. He is most likely reacting to other stimuli, such as magnetic changes to the Earth’s axis or the full moon’s bright light. But there could be some other reasons your dog may howl, including:

  • He is lonely and wants to call out to other dogs
  • Your dog is frightened by something he heard or saw and is howling as a reactive vocalization
  • Pain can cause a dog to howl and should be taken seriously, as dogs usually like to hide their pain.
  • If your dog is overly excited or stimulated by something he has seen or heard, he may howl as an alarm
  • Your dog may howl in reaction to other dogs howling
  • Howling can be a sign of distress
  • Dogs often bark or howl at sirens or motorcyles

What to Do if Your Dog Howls and Barks at Things that Go Bump in the Night

If your dog only howls during a full moon, there is nothing to worry about except waking up the neighbors! Dogs sometimes howl in response to other dogs or irritating noises such as sirens. It is a natural reaction and nothing to be overly concerned about. But if your dog seems to howl frequently for no reason, you should schedule an appointment with your vet. When normal barking turns into howling, it may be more of a cry for help or a reaction to pain.

Dogs may also howl more frequently if they are left alone a lot. Dogs who sleep in an outside kennel may get spooked or lonely at night, especially during a full moon. So, please ensure your dog is safe, protected from harsh weather, has social interaction, and is not overly lonely or frightened.

My rescue dog Georgia seems to get startled after dark, if she can detect something scurrying around in our yard. During a bright, full moon, she can probably see more shadows and movement from mice or opossums.

She has free access to our yard via her doggie door. As a result, she frequently charges through her door at night to chase after shadows of a lurking rodent or stray cat. If she is really worked up, she may try to howl, which is kind of cute for this mixed-breed Pug-Cattle Dog. It sounds more like a pathetic whine than a howl!

Final Thoughts

Dogs may appear to look up at the full moon and howl at it. They may be impacted by its brightness and magnetic pull. But, as much as we love mythology and strange stories about werewolves, dogs don’t really howl at the moon.

Scroll to Top