The Science Behind Why Dogs Howl at Sirens
We have all considered the lore of the wolf baying at the moon, but have you ever wondered why canines howl at sirens? Dogs evolved from wolves, whose signature form of communication is howling.
Dogs howl at sirens because they fear loud noises, want to bond with and howl at other pups, or are protecting their family. They may also think they are helping the siren go away when they howl. Some dog breeds are closer to wolves and are more likely to demonstrate howling behavior.
Dogs may also howl to get attention from their humans. If you want to understand more regarding the science behind why dogs howl at sirens, check out this article.
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
Dogs have an ingrained behavior from their ancestors to howl. In the wild, canines communicate with each other by howling. If your pup howls, they are likely trying to communicate with the other dogs in the neighborhood.
Dogs descended from wolves, and they form these groups in the wild in which the alpha male, or the dominant male, tends to be the one member of the group who howls more. But why do dogs howl at sirens? There can be several possibilities:
They Are Responding to Stimuli
Dog howling is often a response to stimuli, occurring when sounds are recognized. It could be anything from ambulance sirens to police sirens and fire engines. Dogs may howl at sirens because of the high pitch of the noise. They may react to other high-pitched stimuli:
- Television shows
- Loud music at parties
- Car horns beeping
- Musical instruments
A dog may also howl when they hear other dogs howling. They listen to members of their pack howling, setting off a chain reaction. High-pitched noises can disturb dogs, and their response is to howl. You can help your pup by desensitizing them to noises and making them more familiar.
They Are Protecting the Family
Many dogs have it in them to be good guard dogs and watch over and protect the family. Dogs may howl if they spot what they perceive to be an intruder coming toward the home. It is their loyalty toward us that is often their strongest attribute.
If your dog is howling at the sound of the siren, they may not be comfortable with the sound and believe it is threatening. If your canine suspects an intruder, they may send a signal to alert you to the possible danger and howl at the noise to make it disappear.
They Want the Other Dogs to Know Where They Are
About the social value of wolves in packs, if one of the wolves separates and goes far away from the pack, the wolf may call out to their pack members by howling. If the missing member is the dominant member of the pack, they are the one who usually makes decisions regarding social activities and the awakening of the pack; the other members will howl in distress trying to locate the missing wolf.
Dogs also demonstrate close attachments to their “pack” and may have inherited some of these behaviors. They will often howl to other dogs when they hear the sound of a siren due to their need to maintain contact with each other. When one pup hears the siren, they call out, thinking it may be another dog, and the others follow their lead. The first dog is trying to tell the others where they are.
They Are Scared of the Loud Noise
Many dogs are afraid of loud noises, and sirens are no exception. A siren driving down the street may frighten an anxious pup, causing them to howl until the noise is no longer audible. Some of the other loud noises that may scare a dog are:
- Vacuum cleaners
- Car alarms
Fortunately, there are different ways you can help your dog relax when loud noises are present. You can play classical music, or you can even play a sound machine with the sound of waterfalls to calm them down. A ThunderShirt is another excellent tool to help dogs with noise anxiety.
They Think They Are Chasing Off the Siren
As mentioned earlier, your dog takes immense pride in their role as a protector. Your pup may think they are chasing it off by howling at the siren. If they had done this before as an ambulance or fire engine approached, and once it passed by and the noise stopped, they may think they were the reason the siren went away.
Your Dog May Be a Breed that Likes to Howl
Breeds that are genetically closer to wolves are often more inclined to howl. Conversely, breeds that are more distant relatives of wolves are more prone to bark. While all dogs evolved from wolves, a changed social environment means domesticated breeds are less likely to howl. Some of the canine types close to wolves are:
- Shiba Inus
- Alaskan Malamutes
- American Eskimo dogs
Ancient breeds can better translate the information encrypted in wolves than modern breeds. Some breeds were specifically bred to be more like wolves. They closely resemble wolves, have DNA similar to wolves, or have certain personality traits like wolves.
They Want Attention
Believe it or not, some dogs will howl when they want attention. Siren or no siren, some pups howl to get food, treats, and engagement. Dogs are like toddlers who find any attention, even negative attention, rewarding. Many dogs bark a lot to get attention, which is no different. Howling can be a way for a canine to share and express themselves.
Dogs that were used as hunting dogs or kept in packs will sometimes howl as well. It can be a way for a hunting dog to call to their human to let them know they have caught the desired prey animal. Remember that some dogs will howl if raised in an environment where this behavior has been encouraged.
How to Help Your Dog Stop Howling
If your dog incites a community howling session in your neighborhood every time they hear a siren, it may be time for an intervention. You can help your dog stop howling by utilizing treats and praise as encouraging reinforcement. Never yell at or scold your pup, as it can make them fear you, which is not the best environment to nurture a happy, healthy dog.
Instead, try this: reward your dog with a treat every time they are well-behaved and quiet. If your dog howls to get attention, make it a rule that you will wait a few seconds after your pup has been quiet and then give them a treat and pets. They will quickly learn that being quiet equals treats. Be sure to offer them lots of affection and approval as well!
Some research has concluded that there may be several reasons for your dog’s howling at sirens. It can be a way to communicate with and bond with other dogs, it can come from a fear-based reaction, or it could be due to their desire to protect their family.
Some breeds are prone to howling, while others are likely to bark. Whatever the case, know that your pup is an individual whose howling behavior may indicate a ritual deeply rooted in the traditions of ancient breeds and wolves.
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Veterinary Healthcare Associates in Winter Haven, FL, was established over 30 years ago as Maxwell Animal Clinic by Dr. John Maxwell. Maxwell Animal Clinic was a one-doctor general practice offering preventive care, dentistry, and standard surgical services to the community. As the years passed, Maxwell Animal Clinic evolved into a thriving 10-doctor general, specialty referral, and emergency veterinary practice.