Are You a Howling Dog?

Have you heard of the howling dog story? It’s not as well-known as other moral stories, but this one packs a good punch. There are different iterations but the essence is the same.

Here’s my retelling of it:

Tom just moved into a new neighborhood recently. He liked his house and his environment, but there was one thing he didn’t get.

His neighbor, Mr Tan, had a dog that kept howling non-stop. Literally. Day in, day out.

Howling Dog
Image ©

“Auuuuuhhhh………. Aaaauhhhh……….”

Initially Tom thought the dog was just going through a phase, so he ignored the howls, thinking it would eventually stop.

But it didn’t. It continued howling.


1 day passed. Nothing changed. 2 days passed. Still howling. 3 days. 5 days. 1 week. 2 weeks. 1 month. Still howling, with no signs of stopping.

“Auuuhhh………….Oouuuuuhhhhh…….Au au auuhhhhh..”

Finally, Tom couldn’t stand it anymore. One fine day, he walked over to Mr Tan’s house to see what was going on.

Sure enough, there was the dog, sitting at the front porch, howling pitifully to whoever was walking by.

Howling Dog

“Auuuhhh…Ouuuhhh….Auuuuuuuuuuuuuu………Au au au auu au au auuuuhhhhh….”

On the other hand, Mr Tan was relaxing on his bench at the lawn, leisurely reading his newspapers and sipping a cup of coffee.

Wondering what was going on, Tom walked up to Mr Tan.

Tom: “Hi Mr Tan, is that your dog?”

Mr Tan: “Which dog?” He glanced around. “Oh that. Yep he’s mine.”

Tom: “Why does he keep howling?”

Mr Tan: “Oh, that’s cause he’s sitting on a nail.”

Tom: “Sitting on a nail?!?” Tom gave the dog a bewildered look.

“..Okay… so why doesn’t he just get away from the nail then??”

“Well, Tom………”, Mr Tan took a slow sip of his coffee before replying.

“…That’s because he doesn’t find it painful enough yet.”

All of us have nails in our lives that are poking us. Some of us have career nails. Jobs we don’t enjoy. Work that’s dragging us down and sucking our life away. Jobs that we complain about, day in day out, yet we don’t do anything about them. Managers and/or colleagues who stifle us. Recognition that’s overdue. Limited career developments. Unsatisfactory pay and benefits. Not having made a name for ourselves yet in our career.

Some of us have relationship nails. Not being able to find our special someone. Seeing people around us get attached/married while we remain single. Having someone but not sure if he/she is really “the one”. Having a partner who isn’t around enough. Having a partner who is around too much. Having a partner who is too domineering. Unsorted doubts and grievances.

Some of us have financial nails. Increasing expenditures that aren’t matched by our income. Increasing responsibilities we can’t handle. Savings that dip month after month. Increasing debt from credit cards. Not enough money to buy what we want. Making do by limiting our expenditures.

Some of us have study nails. Increasing backlog in homework that we need to catch up on. Upcoming exams we’ve not studied for. Pending projects and assessments that we’ve not completed yet. Revision that should have been completed long ago. Academic-related issues we have not sorted out with our professors/teachers.

Some of us have dream nails. Dreams that we really want to pursue but aren’t for some reason. Dreams that we have been thinking about for a while but haven’t acted on yet. Dreams we are scared to see unfulfilled when it’s too late for us to do anything.

And there are so many other nails. Health nails. Friendship nails. Spirituality nails. Family nails. Habit nails.

Each of us have different nails poking us. Some of us have a couple of big nails that pokes us every once in a while. Some of us have several small nails that poke on and off. Some of us have multiple big and small nails that poke repeatedly. Rather than take action, most of the times we just sit and howl. Cause the pokes aren’t painful enough.

Are there any nails in your life you are not addressing?

Why? Is it cause they are not painful enough yet?

What are you going to do about them?

Act immediately or do something when it’s too late to do anything?

Don’t wait until the nails really hurt before you take action. Because when that happens, that usually means it’s too late to do anything.

You might want to read:

(Originally published on May 7, 2010. Republished on Apr 16, 2011.)

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  • Alexis

    So true, but does that mean you have to have a big enough problem to want to take action?

    • Celes

      That’s how some of us do it – wait until it’s really “painful” before we take action. However, if we take action right before it blows to such a big problem we will spare ourselves and others around us of all the drama.

  • feyi

    Profound. This has opened me up to a new level of realisation.

  • Ricardo Patrocínio

    Great port, thank you for sharing!

    I did not know the story, but it relay put things into perspective. It sounds relay silly that the dog does not move, and yet we do it all the time and it seams no one cares!

  • Gouthaman Karunakaran

    This post is a very deeply thought one. I've had problems in my life and never thought about doing anything about it. You have really made me conscious by introducing the nail as the metaphor. 

  • Farnoosh

    Celes, they say the best leaders use stories to tell their messages. Stories make the message unforgettable, so great job using this technique. Who can forget a howling dog sitting on a nail?
    Oh I have addressed so many nails in recent years I think I am lying on a bed of feathered pillows lately and for that, every day grateful but I shall share this with some friends. Thanks!!!!

  • Richard

    So true! I have been there and struggled deeply before I have done anything. It might be the hard and it might drag you down everyday but very often it takes that awful atmosphere before people realise its not what they want. Great post thanks!

  • JB

    Just wondering - do we have to jump at every pain that hit us? When do you compromise & tolerate?

    • Celes

      I’d say the message of the story is about taking action to create what we want vs. our approach to pain. Often times, many people complain about their current situation and talk about their wishes, but they don’t take action. More action and less talk is the key.

  • Joshua Noerr

    This is one of the main tennants of NLP. You must associate enough pain to any given habit and then replace it with something of equal or greater pleasure for any true change to take hold. Great post Celes!

  • Stephen Borgman

    It helps to both create massive pain to associate to the pain of not changing, and to create massive pleasure by both visualizing and writing about the benefits of the positive change that we are working to achieve. This idea comes out of both the psychology of change and from some of Anthony Robbins’ writings. Now excuse me, I have to get off of this nail! :)

  • Simon –

    Hi Celes,

    Good article. I also agree with your latest comments; it’s about passive vs. active. About waiting until it has reached a level at which you can’t take anymore vs. creating the circumstancing in which you can be successful and lead a happy, nail-free life.

    To much people don’t realize that they can define the outcome of their. Everybody can deal with their nails. Thank you for the insight and inspiration.

    Best, Simon

  • Herman G.

    Great post.. new to blog. I don’t like complainers, and if they don’t do anything about it even worse. It may be they fear the worst( shooting yourself in the foot), if they do make those moves to greatness. Realized that a while back, it is very tough and climbing the ladder slowly, but I’m climbing. It is so worth it.. Just knowing you a chance, than not doing a thing and for sure not reaching anything is not even imaginable.

    The best are having friends, keeping up with bloggers ( like you) that are working harder and better than myself to really push and stretch my abilities

    • Celes

      Hey Herman, welcome to the blog and look forward to connecting more :D

  • Ande Waggener

    A great parable and powerful message. I used to have a friend who said it was more painful to be nibbled to death by piranhas than to suffer one shark bite. Sometimes the pain of change can be big too, but ultimately it’s the lesser of the two pains and it allows us to heal and move on to pleasure and joy.

    This story is also a great reminder to use our “emotional guidance system” to monitor our thoughts and focus. If we’re aware of any pain, we know we’re not focused in a positive direction. Pain–emotional or physical–is helpful information of contrast, information we can use to redirect out attention and energies.

  • John Sherry

    Life for many is a pleasure or pain experience balanced like a see saw. Those in pain would like more pleasure but, in the same way as the dog, find it’s not painful enough to move. If that pain simmers for years at a standable level a life passes by and then looking back refelction says, “What did I achieve?”. Life can be simple and full of pleasures but pain is not one of them. So if you’re hurt try moving toward something that makes you smile, or feel good or you love.

    A beautiful story complete with an important message.

  • Kendra (

    Such a great story and a great reminder! It’s so easy to sit with something uncomfortable that we’d like to change, but often we wait until it becomes really painful before we take action. I’m taking this post as a reminder that I always have the power to change what I want and there’s no need to wait! Thanks so much!!

    Warmest regards,

    Count your blessings. Everyday. Everywhere
    (free with promo code “joy”)

  • boris

    very inspiring story. I love it.
    All the best,

  • Athena

    I think this happens with relationships a lot, people know they shouldn’t be together, but neither one wants to be the bad guy, so they stay “on the nail” until they can’t bear it anymore.