Having been around dogs most of my life, this question has come to mind many times: Why does a dog howl at a siren?
Living out in the country now, I rarely hear a siren. However, in a town just a few miles away from me, police, fire and ambulance sirens are heard quite often. When a siren sounds there, you will hear dogs howling all along Main Street. One pooch, a regular in town, even howls when the church bells chime (every hour on the hour)! While the church chimes are ringing out “Amazing Grace,” he’s howling out his rendition of the song. Once he gets the “music” going, the other neighborhood dogs will join in. They have their own doggy choir.
Why Does a Dog Howl at a Siren?
Some people think that this behavior is brought on by the canine’s sensitive hearing. The shrillness of the siren could cause pain in their ears, so the dogs are just howling out of irritation. This isn’t a widely held view, though. Think about it: If the siren hurt their ears so much, wouldn’t the dogs be running away from the noise? Instead, they seem to take delight in it.
The American Kennel Club organization points to a better reason some dogs howl at sirens: that it’s simply a throwback to their days (long ago) as wolves. Remember that howling is not exclusive to pet dogs; have you ever heard the lonely cry of the wolf? Wolves, as well as other pack animals, use howling as a form of communication and location.
Modern dogs, then, may be expressing this instinctual behavior. To them, sirens might sound like the faraway howl of another dog. One howl leads to another, and before long you’ll hear a whole chorus of dogs responding to one another. The right noise will get a dog lifting his nose and woo-woo-wooing to naturally return the call of the wild. (Beagles, basset hounds and the northern wolf-like breeds, by the way, are more prone to this sort of howling.)
The video below shows a perfect example! Watch this:
Loneliness, Boredom May Be to Blame
Some dogs howl as a way of saying to other dogs, “I’m lonely.” Since canines are used to living in packs, the humans who own them are their pack. Out of loneliness, your hound may howl just to find other dogs. If the noise is excessive, it is probably from boredom and loneliness. Lavishing your dog with some extra pet treats, exercise and a little extra attention should reduce his urge to howl.
Want to try to prevent howling at sirens? For starters, stay relaxed when you and your pet hear the noise. Offer your pet a treat. When your dog stays silent, give him a few pats on the head during this time. But if he does howl, please don’t yell at him or punish him — these actions won’t help him to quit. You can even “practice” this new training by using a recorded siren noise. This will speed up the counter-conditioning.
So, why does a dog howl at a siren? Is it pain, loneliness or instinct? Any of these could be the cause. But as I drive down Main Street in Olanta, S.C., it is my opinion that the dogs in this town howl for pure pleasure!
- Responsible Pet Ownership Blog: Why do dogs howl?
- ABC News: Why do dogs howl at TV’s “Law & Order” song?