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Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens? 3 Reasons for This Behavior

Nicole Cosgrove

There’s nothing worse than being woken up at night not just to a siren wailing but to neighborhood dogs howling in response. Although not all dogs howl at sirens, many do. Why is this?

To learn three reasons why dogs howl at sirens, keep reading. This article explains the behavior, whether the sirens hurt their ears, and more.divider-dog

3 Reasons Dogs Howl at Sirens

Labrador howling
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

Unfortunately, we can never know for certain why dogs do what they do. Nevertheless, scientists have pretty good theories about why dogs howl at sirens. Most likely, dogs howl at sirens because it’s in their genes, they think it’s another dog howling, or they are playing watchdog over your family.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these potential reasons for the behavior.

1. It’s In Their Genes

The most respected answer to the question is that dogs howl at sirens due to their relation to wolves. Wolves communicate through a variety of vocalizations and noises, such as howls. Interestingly, some howls that wolves make are not audible to the human ear. Even though we can’t hear it, dogs can.

Since all dogs, no matter how cute and fluffy they look now, descended from wolves at some point, it’s believed that they retained this trait in their genes, whether they realize it or not. As a result, dogs will howl at sirens because of their wolf genes.


2. They Think It’s Another Dog Howling

Similarly, your dog may be howling at a siren because it thinks it’s another dog howling. As you likely know, many dogs communicate with one another through howls. Even though the siren does not sound like a howl to us, its high-pitched noises may sound like a howl to a dog.

You can’t separate this reason from the dog’s genes, which means this reason for the behavior is closely linked to the previous one. Most likely, the dog thinks the siren is another dog because of its genes. So, your dog may simply be responding to the siren because they think they’re hearing another dog due to their wolf genes.


3. They Are Playing Watchdog

Dogs may howl at sirens because they’re trying to be a watchdog or protector for your family. Whenever a dog hears a siren, they might not know what the sound is or where it is coming from. Because the dog is not familiar with the sound, they may perceive it as a threat. Because your dog is loyal to you, it will start howling to both scare away the potential intruder and notify you of the issue.

Because of the nature of the sound, your dog’s behavior will be reinforced over and over again. Whenever the emergency vehicle drives from your home, the dog may think its howling is what scared it away. Hence, your dog will likely howl every time it hears a siren because it has learned from the past that its howling works to scare away the intruder.

Obviously, we know that it is not the dog’s behavior that scared the siren away, but your dog doesn’t know any better.divider-dog

Do Dogs Howl at Sirens Because It Hurts Their Ears?

If you’re worried that your dog is howling out of pain from the high-pitched sirens, you don’t have anything to worry about. Because dogs can hear such high pitch noises, it is highly unlikely that the sirens hurt their ears. Therefore, their howling is not due to any pain or annoyance.

Experts speculate that sirens do not hurt dogs’ ears because of the dog’s body language. There are no classic signs of pain or annoyance in the dog whenever a siren passes. For example, your dog likely doesn’t cower, hide, or lick its lips at the sound.

Why Don’t All Dogs Howl at Sirens?

Even though many dogs howl at sirens, not all do. If your dog does not howl at sirens, you might be worried that something is wrong with your pooch. Despite the fact that howling is common for dogs, it is not a necessary trait that all dogs share.

All Dogs Are Different

No two dogs are the same. Think about you and your sibling or family members. Do you all respond to potentially threatening or scary situations in the same way? Probably not.

Likewise, not all dogs will respond to sirens and other sounds in the same way. Some dogs may completely ignore the sound, whereas others may howl in response. Some breeds may fall somewhere in the middle and physically respond to the siren without making a sound.

Some Breeds Are More Likely to Howl Than Others

More so, some breeds are more likely to howl than others. Many spitz breeds are more closely related to wolves and more likely to howl. For example, Huskies and Malamutes are known as two breeds closely related to wolves that howl much more than other domesticated dogs.

Dogs that were used for hunting or kept in packs howl a lot too. Beagles, coonhounds, and foxhounds are all known for being highly vocal since their vocalizations helped their hunters of the past.

Just as there are some loud dogs, there are some breeds that are notoriously quiet. For example, Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are notoriously quiet breeds. If your dog belongs to one such breed, it is much less likely to howl at a siren.

How to Train Your Dog to Stop Howling at Sirens

If your dog howls at sirens and you can’t stand the noise, you can train your dog to stop the behavior. It may be a bit difficult to teach this behavior at first, but your dog will likely respond relatively quickly once it figured out the command. Some breeds will be easier than others to train.

The easiest thing to do is to teach your dog to stop howling on command. Whenever your dog starts howling, you say a cue word like “quiet” or “thank you” to inform your dog to stop howling. Reward your dog every time it listens to the command and stops its annoying behavior.

It’s important that you use positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement when training your dog to not howl at sirens. After all, your dog is doing this because of its instincts and desire to protect you. You don’t want to punish your dog for this natural instinct it can’t help.

Instead, use treats and praise to reward your dog whenever it listens. That way, the dog will listen to you without feeling afraid of your wrath.

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Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, we can’t say for certain why dogs howl at sirens, but it likely has to do with their genetics, desire to communicate with other dogs, and need to protect you.

Certain breeds are more likely to howl than others because of their closer lineage to wolves, but individual dogs may choose to howl too. If you can’t handle the howling noise, use positive reinforcement to teach your dog to stop howling on command.


Featured Image Credit: Samantha Gould, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.