There’s nothing like the chorus of neighborhood dogs howling along with a siren in the middle of the night. It’s well known that dogs like to howl, but why do dogs howl at sirens? And what is it about sirens that make some dogs want to howl along with it—especially since not every dog displays this behavior? Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why dogs howl at sirens.
It’s In Their Genetics
It’s in a dog’s genes to howl at sirens. This is because of their common ancestor—the wolf. Wolves are known for their hollowing in the middle of the night. Picture the classic image of a wolf howling up at a full moon. Wolves communicate through a wide variety of vocalizations and noises or “howls”. What’s even more interesting, is that some howls that wolves make aren’t audible to human ears. But just because we can’t hear it, doesn’t mean your dog can’t and this might send him howling into the night.
For wolves, howling sometimes occurs in order to determine the location of other members of their pack. In other cases, howling can be used as a way to prevent other animals from approaching. Howling can also be used as a way to alert the pack of something important nearby. Dogs sometimes use howling in similar ways.
For example, your dog might be howling at something to get your attention. In the case of an emergency vehicle’s siren, or a home alarm, they may be trying to get your attention to let you know that an abnormal sound is occurring so that you can do something about it. The dog doesn’t understand that we can’t stop an emergency vehicle’s siren, but he’s determined to make you aware of it nonetheless.
In other cases, a dog could be howling at sirens as a way to “chase” the danger away. As we mentioned, wolves will howl in order to deter animals that might be approaching. Your dog might be trying to keep the siren away by howling back at what it considers to be a strange, unidentifiable sound. Each time your dog howls at a siren until it gets further and further away, it will begin to think that it has chased away the noise and was successful at keeping you safe.
Every dog, no matter how small, cute, and fluffy they are, is a descendant of a wolf. It is their one common ancestor they all share and through this, is the way they have retained their genes. That is why all dogs are capable of howling even if some dog breeds are more likely to do it than others. Some of the breeds that are most likely to howl at sirens include:
Sometimes a dog might howl at a siren because it thinks that it is another dog howling. Again, this links back to their genetics since wolves would howl at other pack members in order to communicate different things. Even though the sound of a siren doesn’t sound anything like a howl to us, its high-pitched wail may sound like a howl to your dog. And if this is the case, your dog feels compelled to respond to the “other dog” by sending a loud howl right back to them. This strange behavior is something that’s ingrained in their genetics and is almost impossible for them to resist.
Howling to Protect You
As we touched on, dogs may howl at sirens and other similar noises as a way of alerting you to danger. This is because of a dog’s natural instinct to be a watchdog or protector of you and your family. Dogs will always attempt to protect what they love and howling at sirens may be one of the ways that it attempts to do this.
When a dog hears a siren, it doesn’t know or understand exactly what the noise is or what’s making it. Because the dog is not familiar with the sound it may perceive it as a threat. Now that it perceives there is a threat, it feels that it has to scare the sound away in order to protect you, as well as alert you to the issue.
Because of the fact that the sound of a siren fades as it gets further away from you, the dog will assume that what it’s doing is working and that the strange sound is being scared away. This can unfortunately reinforce the behavior within your dog and will encourage it to howl over and over again each time and assuming it was successful.
Do Sirens Hurt Dogs’ Ears?
Although dogs can be very sensitive to sounds, brief exposure to sirens and other loud noises should not harm your dog’s ears. However, if your dog is in a location that has constant exposure to sirens or loud sounds like construction work, this could cause damage.
If you notice that your dog is wincing in pain or whining whenever loud noises occur—especially after being exposed to long-term noise pollution, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment with your vet to have them checked out for hearing damage and to make sure that they aren’t suffering from any underlying health issues.
Why Don’t All Dogs Howl At Sirens?
As we mentioned before, not all dogs will howl at sirens. Even though all dogs are descended from wolves and have the genetics for howling, some will be more drawn to the behavior than others. This may have to do with how closely the dog is related to the wolf. Some breeds are much more closely related to wolves than others, and every dog is different—even within the same breed. Some dogs may completely ignore the sound of sirens while others may just have a physical reaction (like ears perking up or standing) but not make a sound.
Dog breeds that were used for hunting and kept in packs tend to howl a lot versus those that were not. These dogs were known for being highly vocal since this was their way of helping their hunters hunt in the past. On the opposite end, there are some dog breeds that are known to be notoriously quiet like Bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. These dogs are much less likely to howl at sirens.
How to Stop It
Now that we’ve gone over all the reasons why dogs like to howl at sirens, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to stop it. Luckily there are a few ways you can do this and they involve certain training techniques. Howling can be annoying, regardless of the reason for it occurring. Training a dog to stop howling is possible, although it can be difficult at first. But with patience and persistence, you can change your dog’s behavior.
Some breeds will take up to the training quicker than others, but it should work for many dogs. Again, before you begin any training to prevent your dog from barking or howling at sirens, you’ll want to make sure that it is not injured or sick. If your dog has only recently begun howling more often than usual, check with your vet to rule out any new or underlying health issues. Once you’ve got the all-clear on your dog’s health then you can proceed with training practices.
As you begin your training it’s important to know that punishment and yelling at your dog is not a useful training tool, nor is it a long-term solution, as your dog may continue to do it or begin to display other increased negative behaviors like biting or continued barking or howling. If your dog’s howling is triggered by passing sirens, the howling will normally stop as the siren goes away, but if you live in a major city where sirens are more frequent, this could turn into a headache fast.
The easiest way to train your dog is to teach your dog to stop howling on command. Whenever your dog hears a siren and begins to howl, you can say a specific cue word like “quiet” or “thank you” in order to inform your dog to stop howling. You would then follow it up by rewarding your dog with a treat each time it listens to your command and stops howling.
This method utilizes positive reinforcement as it teaches your dog that each time it stops howling on your command it gets a treat. Positive reinforcement is always better than negative reinforcement when it comes to training your dog. Remember that although it can be annoying, your dog is simply acting on its natural instincts and those instincts are there to help alert you to potential danger.
If you’ve tried this method and are not seeing results, you may want to consider using a bark collar. These are different than shock collars as they do not harm your dog and are considered to be humane. They work by vibration rather than shock and can be used to help train your dog not to howl when it hears loud sirens.
Keep in mind, that your dog is acting on its desire to defend and protect you and your home even though it doesn’t understand that there is no real threat of danger. You don’t want to punish your dog for a natural instinct that it cannot help. Instead, use treats to help encourage your dog to stop howling as soon as you tell it to. That way your dog will learn to listen to you without being afraid of receiving punishment for something that it doesn’t understand.
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