If you’ve ever spent time with a dog, you’ve seen it happen. A fire truck, police car, or ambulance speeds past outside, sirens blaring, then a dog, prompted by the noise, lets out a long and loud howl, stopping all conversation.
If you’re a dog owner, howling is just a fact of life that you have to deal with. While the behavior doesn’t cause much damage, it can be irritating and sometimes distracting.
What if you have friends over, or have an important conversation on the phone? Especially if you live in the city, where vehicles with sirens often come rushing past your home, you may need to repeatedly endure the loud howling of your canine companion.
This leaves many concerned (and sometimes annoyed) pet owners to ask the question, “Why do dogs howl at sirens?”
Why Do Dogs Howl At Sirens?
Do Sirens Hurt Their Ears?
Most people imagine that howling is a result of loud noises, like sirens, hurting the dog’s ears. If it’s actively bringing harm to their hearing, then howling is their way to scare the noise off. Right?
You may be shocked to know that dogs don’t howl because sirens hurt their ears.
According to experts, if sirens did hurt their canine hearing, dogs wouldn’t howl, but would instead display other behavior, such as running and hiding from the noise. Observant pet owners would notice that this is the case during 4th of July fireworks.
So, if sirens don’t hurt your pet’s ears, why do dogs howl when they hear sirens?
Dogs and Wolves
The answer to the age-old question, “why does my dog howl at sirens?” has something to do with their ancestors: wolves.
Many subconscious behaviors in humans can be explained by looking at our ancestors; dogs are no different.
You may know that wolves were bred to become human companions, making them loyal, playful, and helpful. Howling, however, is a leftover behavior from this ancestry.
There are some dogs that howl at sirens more often than others, and they have been proven to be genetically closer to wolves.
These breeds would be huskies, beagles, and dachshunds, among other kinds. To understand why dogs howl, we will need to look at why wolves howl.
Wolves and Howling
Wolves are pack animals. While hunting, wolves can communicate over long distances by howling to other members of the pack. That explains why when one wolf howls, others will join in as a response.
Experts have theorized that dogs may mistake sirens for a howl; they will instinctively answer this howl with their own and join in. Of course, other dogs in the vicinity will join as well.
Alternatively, your dog may not think of the siren as a howl, but instead, think of you as a member of their pack. Howling is a way for them to alert you that there is a loud noise, and that there should be something done about it.
Howling can also be a way for them to scare off this noise, to ensure your safety and their own.
When You Should be Concerned
While howling doesn’t mean that your dog is in pain, there are instances wherein you should be concerned.
Excessive howling, not only at sirens but at other loud noises (or none at all), may mean behavioral or medical problems that need to be addressed.
Excessive Howling as a Behavioral Issue
Dogs can howl when they’re sad, which can be due to feelings of separation. In a way, they’re trying to communicate with you from afar. You may notice dogs howling when their owners are away.
This may lead to separation anxiety, which comes with more destructive behaviors, such as tearing objects.
To address this, you will need to talk to a behavioral specialist or arrange to spend more time with your dog.
Conversely, Howling as a Medical Issue
There are some dogs who will howl to indicate that they are sick or otherwise injured. They are asking for attention from you, to address their pain.
If a dog howls without any external stimuli or makes noises that can be mistaken for howling, be sure to inspect your dog for injuries.
How to Manage Howling
Howling is, generally, a harmless behavior. There isn’t much need to put a stop to it, as it doesn’t hurt your dog or anyone else.
Sure, it is annoying, but trying to prevent the behavior is going against their genetics and can be a tough battle.
You could, however, try to discourage the behavior. Like any habit, conditioning is a great way to lessen howling.
Try not to give your dog attention if they’re howling, especially if you think that they’re doing it specifically for attention. Make sure to give them a treat and praise if they do ignore a siren, to further cement the behavior.
Here’s a video explaining more details on why dogs howl at sirens.
Does your dog howl at sirens?