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Why Do Dogs Howl At 3 AM? 9 Weird Reasons + What It Means

Why Do Dogs Howl At 3 Am

Your dog’s howling penetrates your dreams.

Groggy and grumpy, you’re wondering why they’re going at it at this time of night. 

To your horror, the clock on the nightstand reads 3 am. Your hair stands on end. Goosebumps break out all over your skin.

But you’re like every gadget-dependent person in the information age. So you want to do a quick Google search before you run out the door screaming. 

Good choice. Now…

Read on to discover:

  • 9 reasons why dogs howl at 3 am.
  • What superstition and folklore say about it.
  • Why it happens exactly at this time of night.
  • How logic and science explain this behavior.
  • And so much more…

Why do dogs howl at 3 am?

Dogs howl at 3 am because they’re acting out their dreams. But if they’re awake, their breed and age should be factors to consider. Pain, illness, and hunger are other possible reasons. They might also be responding to sounds we don’t hear, while superstition credits it to the witching hour.

9 reasons why dogs howl at 3 am?

#1: It’s their dreams

Owners have long suspected that their pets dream. But it wasn’t until MIT researchers published a study on rats that it became certain.

“Rats? I want to know about my dog.”

We’re getting there.

According to AKC, “Because rats are intellectually less complex than dogs and cats, researchers make the assumption dogs and cats dream just as rats do.”

It doesn’t sound very scientific if we leave it at that. So we won’t.

Of course, scientists have carried out studies on dogs, too. Just without the “chronically implanted with microelectrode arrays,” part.

VCA says that much of their findings come from clinical observations. And one very important bit of information is that they follow the same sleep patterns we do.

That increases the likelihood that they dream as well.

The 2 basic stages of sleep we experience are:

  • Non-rapid eye movement or NREM sleep.
  • Rapid eye movement or REM sleep.

A standard cycle of sleep is 90 minutes. Within this time, NREM and REM engage in “a battle of brain domination.”

As the night progresses, the ratio of NREM to REM changes. It’s in the second half of the night when REM sleep takes up most of the 90-minute cycle.

And it’s this stage when a sleeping animal experiences vivid and hallucinogenic types of dreams. For a dog, it’s 20 minutes into REM sleep when they begin to dream.

It’s beyond this point that dog parents can observe them twitching, grunting, groaning, whimpering, and doing other sleeping dog things. Yes, like howling.

#2: It’s their breed

Some dogs are more prone to howling than others. It depends on their breed. 

PetMD says that hunting dogs, herding dogs, and sled dogs are typical howlers. They specifically name the following:

  • Husky. 
  • Beagle.
  • Bloodhound
  • Alaskan Malamute.
  • Redbone Coonhound.

So if your pooch belongs to either of those breeds, it should come as no surprise to you. They’re inherently predisposed to howling. The time of day or night makes no difference. 

If they want to howl at 3 am, they will. And they’ll even raise a brow when you freak out about it.

#3: It’s their age

As dogs get older, they experience a decline in their cognitive function. 

We know it in humans as dementia. In dogs, it’s called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or abbreviated as CCD.

There’s a wide range of signs from physical disturbances to alterations in behavior. And they’re exhibited by dogs 10 years and older.

One particular sign of CCD is the sleep-wake cycle disturbance.

This could explain why your dog is up and howling at 3 am. They can’t get those straight hours of sleep through the night. Instead, they find themselves awake in the wee hours.

And having nothing to do and no one to interact with, they’ll howl for you.

Read also: 17 Odd Reasons Why Your Dog Suddenly Wants To Sleep Alone

#4: They’re in pain

Howling has come to be associated with pain.

Maybe at some point, your dog’s wolf ancestor did howl when they were hurt. But pain isn’t the primary reason for this vocalization. Communication is.

Even then, Merriam-Webster’s second definition of the word “howl” is: to cry out loudly and without restraint under strong impulse (such as pain, grief, or amusement).

Just maybe, your dog is actually howling because they’re in pain. 

They might have an injury, whether you know it or not. And they aggravated it while they were twitching and chasing rabbits in their dreams.

And then you have a scenario at 3 am. As Merriam-Webster put it, they’re crying out loudly and without restraint under strong impulses such as pain.

Further reading: 7 reasons why dogs walk slowly with their tail down

#5: They’re ill

Your Dog Suddenly Howls At 3 Am Because They're Ill

Your dog may be vocalizing the discomforts of illness. And the hours before dawn are when they’re bound to feel them most.

You may have heard of the term “nocturnal” in relation to animals. They’re the kind who are adapted to life at night and are active after the sun sets. 

Diurnal animals are the opposite of these. They’re active during the day. Some examples are dog parents and their fur babies.

For this bunch, nighttime brings certain physiological changes. For instance, cortisol levels become lower.

Cortisol is a hormone that regulates the white blood cells (WBCs) of the body. These WBCs cause inflammation in response to infection or illness.

So when cortisol levels are lower at night, the WBCs are virtually unchecked. They go on a rampage, seeking out infection and dealing with it. 

This results in more inflammation and consequently more pronounced symptoms. That’s why a sick animal will feel even more ill at night. And they could howl in their affliction.

Check out also: Why Is My Dog Avoiding Me All Of A Sudden? 11 Real Reasons

#6: They’re hungry

Your dog could be howling because they’re hungry.

“But they had their dinner!

And I’m sure you fed them right on schedule. But haven’t you woken up in the dead of the night craving a sandwich? It might be the case with your dog.

They might have had more activity than usual in the late afternoon to evening. Maybe you had friends over. And this resulted in extra attention and playtime.

Or the neighbor’s cat felt adventurous and came into your yard. Chasing that feline friend around could have really worked up your pooch’s appetite.

Whatever the case, the regular serving of kibble wasn’t enough. They wake up hours before breakfast time famished.

Unfortunately for them, they don’t have opposable thumbs. They can’t fix their own midnight/3 am snack. So they’ll howl for you to do it. What are hoomans for after all?

#7: They’re responding to sounds

YouTube and TikTok are troves of videos of dogs howling in response to various sounds. Most commonly, sirens are the stimuli. Like in this video:

It’s quite hilarious! And as evidence, a dog that wants to howl will persistently do it. It doesn’t matter if you (and the entire neighborhood for that matter) are fast asleep.

If they hear a siren from some half a mile or a kilometer away, they’ll join in. The annoying part is that you don’t even hear the stimulus. 

So it feels like a completely random and rude awakening. But your dog can hear sounds you can’t. Whether at different frequencies or distances.

And one thing’s for certain. They’ll howl back.

Warning: The video is funny. But don’t try this at home. Or anywhere else. Your dog may not be as patient as this Husky. And they normally cease their howling once the sound stops anyway. So it’s better to wait it out for a couple of minutes than lose a finger. 

#8: It’s a chain reaction

Dogs have an incredible audition or sense of hearing. Just how incredible, you ask?

Well, animal behavior expert, Dr. Susan Hazel, puts the distance at which they can pick up sounds as far as 0.6214 miles or 1 kilometer.

“What?! And they act like they can’t hear me when I call them from the other side of the living room?!”

I had a similar reaction upon learning this. But I digress.

Imagine this. A dog miles away hears a siren or some other auditory stimulus and howls. A dog half a mile from that first one hears them howling and howls too. 

Then a dog half a mile away from the second one hears them howling and howls too. And it goes on and on until the sound is picked up by your own dog. Of course, they howl as well.

Now when you want to blast that Yoga Electronica playlist you found on Spotify, you pause to consider, “Is it already too late at night?” or “Is it still too early in the morning?”

And you even worry, “It might wake my poor baby.”

But poor baby makes no such considerations when they want to break out into a howl. 

That’s not to say dogs are rude creatures. They’re very thoughtful and considerate in their own ways.

Remember when they tried helping you clean your ears? Or when they tackled you to the ground? Something distressed you and they wanted to offer their shoulder for you to cry on.

But for them to stop and check the time or if you’re awake before they howl? Keep wishing.

#9: It’s the witching hour

Witching Hour

You might want to get under the blanket and have your dog beside you for this one.

As a rule, we refer to credible veterinary sources for our articles. That way, we can give you a science-backed understanding of your dog’s behavior.

But we’ll veer away from that just this once. And instead, we’ll cite folklore.

It’s not that we’re becoming superstitious all of a sudden. But for centuries, the belief that a dog’s howling is connected to the supernatural realm has persisted. 

And even more, it’s considered to be a death omen. A dog’s howling precedes the end of life, or so it’s claimed. To this very day, some dog parents swear it’s true.

Dr. Stanley Coren admits that “some of the anecdotal reports are intriguing.”

So it’s only fitting that we address it here. After all, you might be curious about it too.

The witching hour

It’s the time of night when wizards, witches, and demons are said to be at their most powerful. Yes, the likes of Voldemort and Bellatrix.

“Don’t say that name!”

Sorry. I mean the likes of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and Bellatrix.

In literature, some writers, including Shakespeare, put it at midnight. But it’s more traditionally believed to be at 3 am.

For those unfamiliar with Judeo-Christian teachings, it’s recorded that Jesus died at 3 pm. This makes 3 am the more likely candidate for the witching hour.

It’s the same hour but at the opposite end of the day. So it’s when demons are said to prance around.

And with dogs having such exceptional senses, they can pick up on these fiend festivals.

Ancient Egyptian beliefs

The ancient Egyptians had thoroughly fascinating mythology. Their concepts of the afterlife led to the development of a complex method of embalming known as mummification.

The jackal-headed god Anubis was associated with mummification and guiding souls into the afterlife. 

This was among the earliest reasons why a dog’s howling was linked to death. It was believed that a soul was calling out to Anubis.

Norse beliefs

Among a number of things, the goddess Freyja was associated with death.

In Norse mythology, the fallen warriors on a battlefield were divided. The Valkyries chose half of the dead for Odin’s Valhalla. 

While Freyja chose the other half for her own realm, Fólkvangr. And this is where it gets interesting.

Her carriage was drawn by 2 cats. Thus was born the belief that dogs howl when someone is about to die. It’s because they’re howling at Freyja approaching.

Or more specifically, her cats approaching.