Most dog owners have an involuntary reaction to sirens. Not only do they cringe, but they prepare themselves for a long, often obnoxious, period of barking. So, why do dogs howl at sirens? That siren might be meant as an emergency warning for you and your family, but it clearly means something very different for your dog.
Many dogs howl at sirens, which might prompt you to ask why that’s so. It doesn’t matter if it’s near or far, whether it’s familiar or new – your dog starts barking. It stands to reason that there must be a reason for the behavior.
Why Dogs Howl at Sirens
As most people know, dogs are the descendants of wolves. While you definitely see this in some breeds more than others, all dogs carry that wild ancestry with them. Howling, it seems, is hardwired into doggie DNA.
Dogs, like wolves, howl as a means of communication. When they hear a sound – say, the sound of a siren – they need to communicate that with the rest of their group. These pack animals are picking up on a sound that’s unfamiliar, but that’s pitched in a way that makes it important to share with others.
No one’s quite sure what dogs make of sirens. Some experts, for example, might think that a siren is actually another dog trying to communicate with them. Your dog, then, is simply trying to howl back at the dog he or she perceives to be in the distance, totally unaware that there’s a siren at all.
Another reason that dogs might howl at sirens is precise because they don’t understand what they are hearing. The sound is new, and new often means dangerous in survival situations. Your dog feels like something is unusual is going on, so your dog is actually trying to warn you that something bad might be happening. That’s right – your dog loves you enough to scream at you when there’s a new and unusual sound.
Finally, there’s the possibility that howling is actually a distress reaction. The high pitch of the sound might actually hurt your dog’s sensitive ears, so he or she is trying to get you to get the siren to stop. This is, fortunately, a fairly unlikely scenario that’s only likely to be in play if your dog is displaying several other types of distress reactions while howling.
Why Some Dogs Don’t Howl at Sirens
Given all of these potentially hardwired reactions to sirens, you might wonder why your dog isn’t howling whenever a siren goes off.
Sadly, there’s not really any solid reason why your dog might ignore sirens. There aren’t any major studies about a dog’s lack of reaction to sirens, after all, but even going that far might be overthinking thing. The answer might be as simple as the idea that some dogs just don’t care about sirens at all.
This makes an awful lot of sense if howling is a behavior that’s linked to feeling threatened or distressed. Frankly, some dogs might consider their homes safe enough that they really don’t need to alert their humans to the strange noise. They may also simply choose to ignore the sires because they have heard them so often that they know howling won’t do any good. For some dogs, though, the answer might simply be that their hearing isn’t as good as it once was and that those dogs can’t hear the sirens all that well.
If you are lucky enough to have a dog who doesn’t howl at sirens, it’s best to just let things go. There’s nothing wrong with your dog where – he or she just doesn’t have that particular reaction.
How to Handle Your Dog Howling at Sirens
While howling at a siren might be natural for your dog, it’s not necessarily the best behavior in the world. It’s not worth addressing if this is something that doesn’t happen very often, but it is something that you’ll want to look into if it is causing you serious problems in your home. As such, you’ll want to look into training your dog not to howl.
So, how does this work?
You’ll start by ignoring your dog when he or she howls. If your dog is trying to get your attention, this will dissuade him from trying again. If your dog hears the siren and decides not to howl at all, give him or her a treat for being such a good boy or girl. The combination of not giving your dog input when he or she is howling and rewarding him or her when he or she is silent will eventually condition your dog to stay quiet when he or she hears sirens.
In some cases, you may need to look into professional training to help your dog stop howling at sirens. Some dogs really do need an intensive amount of training to unlearn this behavior, but it is something that can be done with enough time and patience.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Do sirens hurt dog’s ears?
It’s very unlikely that sirens will hurt a dog’s ears unless the siren is very close to the dog. While sirens are quite loud and dogs do have sensitive hearing, your dog probably isn’t reacting to the sound of the sirens due to pain. With that said, a dog who is exhibiting other distress behaviors like involuntary urination, hiding under furniture, or shaking may be experiencing pain. If this is the case, you should take your dog to the vet as soon as you can.
2. Why do dogs howl at high-pitched sounds?
While it’s not entirely certain why dogs howl at high-pitched sounds, there are definitely a handful of theories about this behavior. In some cases, your dog might think that the high-pitched noise is another dog trying to communicate with him or her and thus he or she is trying to communicate back. In other cases, your dog might be trying to warn you of danger by howling. There are even cases in which your dog might be howling because of pain or distress, but these cases are few and far between.
3. Is dog howling a sign of distress?
Howling is not usually a sign of distress. It might be a sign that your dog is trying to warn you of danger, but it isn’t usually a fear response. Howling can be a sign of distress when it is accompanied by other typical distress signs, though, so pay attention if your dog is howling while hiding, shaking, holding his or her tail between his or her legs, or involuntarily urinating.
4. Are dogs sad when they howl?
Dogs are probably not sad when they howl. Howling is an excellent way to communicate over a distance, so your dog is probably just trying to send a message. In fact, your dog’s howl is probably more of an attempt to broadcast an emergency signal than it is a sign that he or she is sad. If you are worried about your dog howling when he or she is sad, you should take a moment to look at other signs that your dog might be sad – that will tell you much more than the sound that your dog is making.