We’ve seen it in horror movies and heard it in Halloween soundtracks: an ominous howl from a crying hound in the distance, telling us that gory tragedy is just around the corner. Spooky organ music often accompanies the canine’s premonition that a life is soon to expire. For some reason, the shadow cast from the moon always seems to paint a complete picture that integrates the foreboding indicators of certain death. Many cultures around the world believe that dog howls are an omen of death, but how did this make its way into the Halloween psyche?
All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween, has roots in pagan traditions that originated from ancient Celtic harvest festivals. It is fitting then, that superstitions about howls indicating death stem largely from those same areas. In Irish folklore, dogs only howl when they sense packs of phantom hounds. If dog ghouls don’t scare you, you need to understand that these phantom hounds are leading their masters on a hunt for souls across the sky.
Some Nordic countries believe that dogs howl to acknowledge the approach of Freyja, who is the goddess of many things, including death. Freyja rides her chariot across the sky, pulled by two massive cats, which many dogs don’t like. When a dog senses these huge cats that are escorting their death-dealing goddess, they naturally howl.
In the U.S., some people believe that two dog howls in close succession indicate that a man will die soon, and three indicate that a woman will die soon. It helps to narrow down who will die because the dog will face in the direction of the mortal soul about to leave this world. If the dog faces away from you when it howls, you might have good luck.
Besides acknowledging lost souls being found, a less superstitious reason behind howling is dogs’ tendency to signal other dogs in the area. Because they are pack animals, they howl to alert other canines of their presence, either for dominance of the area (and the hunting rights of it), or because they feel alone and need company. So next time your dog howls, he is probably telling you he values your friendship. The best way to reciprocate this is to spend time with him and stimulate him with a walk or playtime.