Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?

There’s a string of ambulances, fire trucks, and policemen driving down your street, and in the cacophony of sirens, your pup perks up and joins in: Why is she howling along with the sirens? Why do dogs howl at sirens, in general?

A big part of the answer has to do with dogs’ ancestry. There are a number of reasons dogs howl at sirens: for communication, for protection, and sometimes based on their specific breed.

Howling as a Form of Communication

The behavior of dogs howling stems from dogs’ lineage to wolves and typically serves as a form of communication. Since wolves—and dogs—have a keen sense of hearing high-pitched frequencies over long distances, it makes sense why our pups have the same sense and reaction to hearing sirens.

Wolves will howl to their pack if they get separated, and the pack would respond by howling back. Because of this ancestry, dogs may misinterpret the siren to be another dog sharing his location, and the response of howling back is actually to let the “other dog,” or siren, know her location.

Howling to Protect

Another reason for dogs howling along with the sirens may be due to a protective response. If your dog hears loud sirens, she may interpret this as a threatening noise and want to warn you of danger approaching. This also comes from your pup’s ancestral roots of dogs serving primarily as protectors or watchdogs of the home. However, you should only be concerned about the sound upsetting your pup if she displays other signs in addition to howling, like hiding under furniture or tucking her tail between her legs. Otherwise, the sound is likely not causing her any real distress.

But if your dog howls at the sound of a siren, and the siren fades away, this can serve as a false sense of positive reinforcement for your pup, making her believe that her reaction to the threat caused the threat to leave. This may prompt your pup to howl each time she hears a siren, believing the howling to cause the siren to stop.

Howling According to Dog Breed

While some dogs may howl each time they hear a siren, others may never show a reaction to the sound. Some of this has to do with the dog’s breed. Though individual dogs have their own behaviors, some dog breeds that are closer related to wolves are generally likelier to howl along with the sirens. This includes breeds like Huskies, Malamutes, and American Eskimos.

It also includes breeds of hound dogs that are known to hunt in packs, including beagles, foxhounds, and coonhounds. Hound dogs are known to using howling to communicate with each other across vast distances during hunting. But while some breeds may have a strong reputation for howling, each individual pup will be different.

Preventing Your Dog From Howling at Sirens

If you’re wanting to train your pup to stay quiet when emergency vehicles drive past your home, it may be slightly more difficult than other training because of the fact that it’s an instinctual response. However, if you’re needing the extra quiet, it’s important to reward “good” behavior instead of scolding “bad” behavior.

If you give your pup a treat when she’s acting calmly and quietly each time a siren passes, this will reinforce that behavior, causing her to react similarly to future sirens. Conversely, if you scold her for howling when a siren passes, this may cause fear or anxiety each time they hear a siren. Howling is ingrained in dogs, so if it’s possible, it’s best to allow your dog to display this emotion/reaction naturally. Worst case scenario, you can always throw a toy for distraction.

Zoë Butler
Author: Zoë Butler

Content Writer for DogFriendly.com.

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