Dogs use a variety of sounds to communicate with other dogs or with their owners. They whine, whimper, bark in several ways, growl, sigh, etc. These vocalizations are all used in different contexts for different reasons. Many are obvious to us, but some are not so clear, such as when dogs howl at sirens. So why do dogs howl at sirens, and what are they trying to communicate?
While dogs bark in a low pitch, their howling is quite high-pitched. Sirens are also high-pitched, so when dogs hear them, they may interpret those sounds to be the howling of another dog. They may also perceive the sounds to be a warning of danger, and by howling themselves, are trying to alert their owner of a possible threat.
Let’s look at why dogs howl at sirens, what can be done in situations like these, and why some dogs ignore the sirens altogether. We’ll also explore whether howling might indicate that something is not okay with their dog.
Why Do Dogs Howl At Sirens?
While science has no firm proof as to why dogs howl at sirens, there are a number of theories and speculations. It may not be just a single reason, so your dog’s howling may be the result of one or a combination of the following causes.
Communication with Their “Pack”
Dog howling mainly originates from their ancestry. Dogs are descendants of wolves, and their howling is behavior developed long ago in their origins.
Wolves use howling as a way of communication, and they can hear high-pitched voices and sounds from a great distance. When a wolf is separated from their pack, they howl to find their way back. Even though dogs do not live in packs, the howling behavior remains in their DNA.
When dogs hear howling, their first instinct is often to respond by howling as well. Because sirens produce high-pitched sounds, which dogs may interpret as howling, they are likely responding to those sounds as if they, too, are howls.
Many have suggested that dogs howl to announce to their “pack” where they are situated. Much like a wolf separated from its pack howling to alert them to its whereabouts, a dog may be instinctively doing the same thing.
Alerting Their Owner of Danger
Another theory for dogs howling at sirens is that they are alerting their owners to possible danger. The siren is an unusual sound in their environment, and they are announcing this potential threat to their owner or “pack”.
Because sirens are not sounds dogs usually hear on a regular basis, the high-pitched sounds might seem like something harmful is about to happen. Their protective nature causes them to do what they can to alert their owner to some kind of possible dangerous situation.
Dogs Like the Sound of Another Dog Howling
Yet another explanation for why dogs howl at sirens is that they simply enjoy the sound and want to join in. In this theory, dogs are effectively singing when they howl, and other dogs want to sing along.
Just as dogs often bark as a sort of crowd behavior when other dogs bark, your dog may just be enjoying expressing his inner creative self. While we’ll probably never know the answer to this question for sure, the simple explanation of a dog wanting to joyously vocalize makes as much sense as any other theory.
Do Sirens Hurt Dogs’ Ears?
Some people believe that these high-pitched noises hurt the dogs’ ears, so they howl out of distress. However, if they do not show any other signs of distress, such as cowering, running away, or hiding, their howling is likely caused by one of the other reasons mentioned above.
Howling at Sirens as a Self-Reinforcing Behavior
Sometimes, howling at sirens can get worse over time. This is because it is effective as a self-reinforcing behavior. A dog hears a siren, howls, and then the siren recedes into the distance. From the dog’s perspective, their howling has eliminated the threat, and because of this “success”, they are more likely to exhibit the same behavior the next time they hear a siren.
This is the same dynamic as when a dog barks at the mail carrier, “causing” them to immediately leave (after delivering the mail). The dog’s daily “success” in scaring off the mail carrier and protecting the home from their threat encourages the dog to do the same thing the next day, but with even more gusto.
How To Train Your Dog Not To Howl At Sirens
If you are a dog owner, you probably know how distressing the howling can be, and it can also annoy the neighbors, so it is not a desired behavior from the dog next door. Therefore, many dog owners who have this kind of problem try to find ways to eliminate the howling so it will not create an unpleasant situation for the people around. Luckily, some methods can be applied in these situations to help get rid of your pet’s annoying howling.
One method that is worth trying and helps in most cases is desensitization and counter-conditioning (DSCC). In this method, owners or trainers play recorded sounds of sirens for their dogs. They start by playing them very softly so the dog doesn’t react. If the dog doesn’t howl, they reward them with a treat.
Over time and training sessions, the volume of the siren recordings are gradually increased in small increments, with the dog being rewarded each time they don’t respond by howling. The dog learns to associate the siren sounds with the pleasant experience of food rewards and praise. Eventually, the sirens can be played at full volume and the dog will not respond with howls, and this then translates to real sirens coming from the outside environment.
The incremental increase in volume is the desensitizing aspect of the training, and the positive rewards for desired behavior is the counter-conditioning component.
If you live in an area with frequent sirens and your dog responds with howling, it’s probably a good idea to try to stop the behavior. Remember, dog howling may not bother you but it likely bothers the people around you.
Why Do Some Dogs Ignore The Sirens?
Dogs are quite different among themselves, so while some of them have the instinct to howl every time they hear sirens, others are indifferent to them. Also, some dogs do not howl to communicate, as the behavior depends on the dog’s breed characteristics or specific personality.
Some dogs’ hearing might not have the same qualities as other dogs, so they may not naturally interpret sirens to sound like another dog howling, so they do not respond.
Dog howling can be annoying, especially when sirens trigger it. There are different reasons why dogs may howl at sirens, but fortunately there are training methods to stop this behavior if your dog has this habit.