It's no secret: some dogs love to howl at sirens. Why do some dogs feel compelled to vocalize when an ambulance drives by wailing their sirens? Why are other dogs unbothered by the sound of sirens? What can you do if your dog insists on howling at every siren sound they hear?
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
As with most dog behaviors, the true reason behind howling at sirens isn't known, but most experts believe that there are two strong possible reasons for it.
The most commonly held belief is that howling at sirens is a holdover from your dog's ancestors. Wolves communicate to one another through different kinds of noises and vocalizations, but howling is one that they are most known for. Some of these howls we can hear, but keep in mind, wolves and dogs have a much sharper sense of hearing than our own. Your dog can hear (and create) sounds at frequencies that we can't. So when your dog hears a siren in the distance, they may think it's another dog trying to communicate with them. When your dog howls in response to the siren, they may simply be trying to say, 'Hey! I hear you and I'm over here!'
Another common belief as to why dogs may howl at sirens harkens back to some dogs being utilized as a protector or watchdog for a family. Your dog may hear a siren in the distance and not know what it is. This new sound may be harmless, but it may also be a threat and, as they say, it's better to be safe than sorry. So, being the faithful and loyal companions that they are, your dog may howl at a siren as a way to warn you and other members of your family that there is a potential danger nearby. This may also explain why a dog may howl at sirens more the second time they hear. This is because, as the emergency vehicle drives further away, your dog may think their howling scared it away, thus reinforcing the behavior.
Do Sirens Hurt My Dog's Ears?
For some people, the high pitched squealing of a siren can be an annoyance to our own ears. This may lead you to believe that your dog may howl at sirens because the sound bothers them or may even cause them pain. However, most experts don't believe this is the case. Dog body language relies on more than just one behavior and a dog in distress will exhibit multiple 'classic' behaviors and body language cues. If your dog is howling at a siren but not exhibiting any other signs of stress, such as cowering, hiding, or lip licking, your dog is probably howling for one of the aforementioned reasons and not because they're distressed by the noise.
What Dog Breeds Are More Likely to Howl at Sirens?
Most experts believe that dog breeds that are more closely related to wolves may be more likely to howl at sirens than other breeds. This includes various Spitz breeds, such as Huskies, Malamutes, and American Eskimos. Another group of dogs that may be more likely to howl at sirens are hound dogs that hunt in packs and/or utilize baying and vocalization in their hunting. This can include breeds such as beagles, foxhounds, and coonhounds.
Obviously, all dogs are individuals. Not all breeds are the same and not all dogs of a specific breed are the same either. So you may have a chihuahua that readily howls at sirens or you may have a beagle that is just uninterested in the noise of a siren.
How to Stop Your Dog From Howling at Sirens
There can be different reasons why your dog howling at a siren may be undesirable. Maybe you live in an apartment complex, or maybe you just don't appreciate the added noise when an emergency vehicle drives by. There are some things you can do to help break your dog of their howling habit. One thing is to teach your dog 'quiet' or even 'thank you'. Pair your dog sitting quietly and calmly in response to either of these cues with a reward. When your dog knows what these cues mean and can reliably respond to either with being quiet and calm, you can use them to get them to stop howling at a passing siren. It's important to remember to reward your dog when they show the desired behavior of being quiet rather than scolding them for howling at sirens. Some dogs may be more resilient than others, but others may learn to associate the sound of a siren with being scolded, which may lead to noise phobia or fear and anxiety when they hear a siren or anything that remotely sounds like a siren.
Training your dog to not howl at sirens may take a little longer than training them other cues. It is an instinctive behavior, after all. If you're having trouble, talk to your veterinarian. They can suggest local dog trainers that can help.