Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens? 3 Main Reasons for This Behavior

why do dogs howl at sirens

Our four-legged companions have a list of eccentric behaviors that are often confusing to us. Their response to a siren coming from an ambulance or police car can be distracting at times. You’re enjoying a nice and quiet evening watching your favorite sport with your pooch when you hear a faint siren, and suddenly, your evening isn’t so quiet anymore. You hear your dog howling vehemently in response, and all the neighborhood dogs howl in synchronization. Sound familiar?

If your dog howls at sirens, you know that these sounds can trigger a response from your canine buddy. But why do dogs howl at sirens? Why do some dogs howl more while other dogs tend to ignore them altogether? Do sirens hurt dogs’ ears? And should you do something about this behavior or let them howl away? 

Why Do Dogs Howl At Sirens

Knowing that dog howling is a natural behavior, it can still be frustrating when dogs howl at sirens. And although we can’t be sure, there seem to be three main reasons why dogs howl at sirens or any similar faint sound that falls upon a dog’s ears.

Ancestral Behavior – Dogs Howl At Sirens Because They Just Can’t Help It

Dogs have been domesticated over the years, but your cute and cuddly buddy wasn’t always that way. Dogs are descendants of a much more feral animal; the wolf. Wolves howl to let other wolves in the pack know their location. This behavior is apparent in dogs as well due to their common ancestry with wolves. Your dog may be interpreting the sound of a siren as a howl coming from another dog and vocalizing in response to let it know its location. 

This response to high-pitched sounds such as sirens is a trait passed down from wolves to dogs, and while your dog may not be part of a wolf pack, the behavior is pretty much etched in its DNA. Other dogs in neighboring regions join in to howl at sirens due to the pack mentality shared among these canines.

Howling At Sirens May Be How Dogs Communicate

When dogs hear sirens, it’s common for many dogs to start howling collectively. Others completely ignore the sounds and only respond to the other dogs howling. This could be an indication that sirens tend to encourage dogs to howl and communicate with each other, either to let them know of their presence or simply to share a dog bond. We can’t be certain, but the fact that they howl after hearing each other remains unquestioned.

Sometimes your dog starts howling when you don’t even hear a siren, high-pitched sound, or other loud noises from a distance. Dogs are sensitive to a broader range of audio frequencies than humans, and as part of their natural instinct, a dog hears sounds that may be inaudible to human ears. Experts believe that this is one of the reasons that dogs mistake sirens for the howl of other dogs trying to communicate. Ultimately, they start howling to respond to what they deem as a loud howl (like from one of the loudest barking dog breeds).

Dogs Howl At Sirens Because Of Their Protective Nature

Many dogs are usually protective of their pet owners or companions. So when a dog hears an unusual high-pitched sound, their natural instinct is to try and alert you that a threat is nearby. The sound may be from something completely harmless, but your dog may perceive it as a potential danger and howl at sirens to try to warn you or get your attention. 

howling and barking dog

Is it Destructive Behavior When Dogs Howl At Sirens?

Does your dog howl more frequently as time passes? There may be a good reason for them doing so. Speaking of negative reinforcement, the more a dog responds to howling, the more likely it is to continue that behavior. As the siren passes and the emergency vehicle drives further away, your dog might associate the howling with scaring the “perpetrator” away, thus reinforcing the dog’s behavior.

Do Passing Sirens Hurt Dogs’ Ears Or Do Dogs Ignore Them?

Emergency vehicles use high-frequency sounds to alert us of their presence in the vicinity. These sounds certainly lead us to cover our ears sometimes. Since dogs are more sensitive to sounds in the ultrasonic spectrum than humans, there is a common misconception that the sirens are painful to a dog’s ears, thus eliciting the howling response. Veterinarians believe this isn’t always the case. 

Some vets believe your dog might associate the sirens with a particular event or howl as a result of the reinforced belief of driving the threat away. Animal behaviorists further explain that a dog’s body language is an excellent indicator of how dogs feel scared or hurt in response to something such as loud noises or neighborhood dogs howling. 

Since most dogs do not tuck their tails in, run and hide, or start whimpering in response to sirens, it’s unlikely that the sirens are triggering a painful sensation in their delicate ears. If anything, it’s usually quite the opposite. My friend’s dog, Mimi, usually runs outside to howl and bark at the sirens. She usually won’t stop howling unless she’s distracted by something else such as guests, children, or a doggy treat (such as a shrimp or a piece of avo). 

dog howling

Do All Dogs React By Howling At Sirens?

No. Some dogs are very reactive to the high-frequency sound of sirens, while other breeds don’t bat an eye. A pretty simple explanation is that dogs have different behavior patterns and habits. Just like humans, no two dogs are alike. While Mimi doesn’t spare a second to go outside to bark and howl at the siren, our BarkingTalk pup Salsa, simply couldn’t care less. 

Apart from the different behaviors and habits, the breed of the dog is also a factor to be considered. Dog breeds more closely related to wolves, such as American Eskimos, Huskies, and Malamutes, tend to howl more than other distant-related varieties. You can read all about why Huskies talk and howl here.

While howling is a common habit among dogs, it isn’t a universal phenomenon. Every dog breed has different characteristics, and not all dogs of the same variety share the same habits.

Conclusion: Why Do Dogs Howl At Sirens And Should You Stop A Howling Dog?

The debate is ongoing. Based on their response to loud noises and their general behavior, we can assume three reasons why dogs tend to howl at a passing siren. They are genetically wired to do so, they communicate with other dogs, or they are trying to be protective and alert others of danger. 

Should you make your dog stop howling? That depends on how comfortable or uncomfortable you (and your neighbors) are with it. It’s completely natural canine behavior, so you don’t need to be alarmed. After all, they still share some similarities and traits with their wolf ancestors. However, if you find that your dog is howling excessively every time it hears a siren or a high-pitched sound, it can be a bit uncomfortable to bear for your own ears. And you may want to rectify that behavior. 

You can encourage your dog to stop howling and stay quiet by ignoring them altogether. Howls are meant to get your attention and get it fast. Ignoring your dog’s howling will discourage the howling behavior as there is no reward or reaction from you. Not showing an alarming response or sudden reaction is usually the first step for dog owners.

Another thing you can do is give your dog a treat whenever they hear a siren and don’t respond to their primal cries. Praising your dog and offering it a treat will lessen the howling over time as your dog will learn to associate staying quiet with a shortcut to getting treats and affection. These training methods gradually reduce your dog’s urge to howl at every siren it hears, even a passing siren from a distance. 

If training your dog on your own doesn’t work, you may want to consult a professional dog trainer. They can help you devise a training regime that is more accustomed to the preferences of your canine buddy.