Howling Dogs, Crying Babies

What are these interactions all about?
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2010, Updated June 2021
dog howling at baby

A common theme for YouTube videos of dogs and babies is dogs who howl when a baby is crying. There are many reasons why dogs howl, including when they are stressed, to alert us, and in response to other long loud noises. What I found interesting about these videos is the dogs’ vocalizations often has a calming affect on the babies.

Here are two videos in which a crying baby and a howling dog are in close proximity. In the first one, 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 second video, a dog and a baby are lying on a blanket on the floor and both are making a lot of noise. Though more subtle, it again appears as though the baby’s response to the dog’s howling is to stop crying for a brief moment.

It’s really anybody’s guess what is going on in these interactions. There are a lot of experts 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.
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 she likes to join in with the baby’s “howling.”
The dog howls because she has learned that this gets the baby to quiet down.
The dog howls because she doesn’t like being near the baby.
The dog howls because she’s trying to get a human’s attention: (“Pick up the baby and make it stop!!!)
What do you think is going on? Do you have experience with a dog and a baby who howl and cry together?

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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. Karen 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 canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life