I was camping at around 1500m in the Italian Alps, and around midnight I heard howling that sounded very much like a wolf.

I know there are wolves in the area (a friend of mine was lucky enough to see one), but they are rare. On the other hand, the shepherds in the high pastures often use large dogs to protect their flocks at night.

Is there any way to differentiate between the howling of a wolf vs a large dog?

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    I saw a documentary about those dogs. They put night vision cameras on them to determine if they really were protecting the flock. Turns out they're the goodest boys and girls ever; they do a fantastic job protecting the sheep, with those sheep faring much better than those in flocks without dogs. Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 20:47
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    I found material on the difference between the wolf howl and the coyote howl, and the difference between the howls of the grey wolf and the red wolf, but nothing on the difference between the sounds of the howls of the wolf and the dog. You may want to join the Canid Howl Project, which is open to non-scientists, and by plowing through their literature, you may get a clue.
    – ab2
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:01
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    @JonathanLandrum - those dogs may do a fantastic job, but they sure are intimidating. You quite often see information boards about how to behave around them - basically, keep away from their flocks, give them a wide berth, and never, never threaten them... Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 22:48
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    @Hashim I can't seem to find it right now. It is possible it was an episode of Netlix's "Dogs". Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 14:12
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    This distinction may be even more difficult here since the Italian wolf populations have substantial crossbreeding with free-ranging dogs. Commented Sep 24, 2020 at 13:12

1 Answer 1


The answer is yes, but it may require equipment, which is not just the human ear. The publication quoted below is from Montana State University Disentangling canid howls across multiple species and subspecies: Structure in a complex communication channel. (It is not clear whether this work is part of the Canid Howl Project which welcomes contributions of howls and analysis from non-scientists.) This work identified 21 howl types and

analysed a database of over 2,000 howls recorded from 13 different canid species and subspecies.........[They] found that different species and subspecies showed markedly different use of howl types, indicating that howl modulation is not arbitrary, but can be used to distinguish one population from another.

This requires equipment. They did note one qualitative trend, which may be noticeable by the human ear, although I don't think they said that explicitly:

One qualitative trend noticeable from the exemplar 209 howls (chosen as those nearest to the cluster centroid) is that the smaller species (red wolf, coyote, New Guinea singing dog, domestic dog, golden jackal) favoured howls that ended with a sharp drop in frequency, whereas larger species (arctic wolf, eastern timber wolf, European wolf, Mackenzie Valley wolf) used howls with much less frequency modulation, particularly at the end of the howl (Figure 4), although this may be an artifact of the lower fundamental frequency used by larger species.

For the purposes of the OP, an answer that comes from personal experience, using nothing but the human ear, would be more useful.

  • Thanks - good answer. But holding out to see if anyone has advice on identifying wolves by ear in the field... Commented Apr 27, 2018 at 14:10

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