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Why Do Dogs Howl At Sirens? (And What to Do About It!)
By: Kelli Rascoe
You know the situation all too well—you’re hanging out at home with your best friend lying nearby. All of a sudden, a siren starts whining in the distance, and your pal’s ears perk up. It’s only a matter of time before he jumps to his feet and starts howling at the top of his lungs.
Why do dogs howl at sirens? Do sirens hurt canine ears? Are they simply singing along? The truth, it turns out, remains a bit of a mystery even to animal experts.
“No one knows for sure,” says Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde. “But it is thought that dogs who howl at sirens interpret the sirens as other dogs howling.”
There may in fact be multiple explanations for why your pal chimes in with local siren sounds. It’s also important for all pet owners to be able to recognize when these noises may be harming dog ears and what to do about it.
Why do dogs howl at sirens? 5 theories
More research is needed on why so many dogs howl at sirens. In the meantime, there are some dominating theories:
- Dog communication. It’s possible that howling is simply your furry friend’s way of calling to you or even other dogs. As Wilde notes, “Dogs use howling to locate each other, so it’s possible that the dog chimes in to let the other dog know where the fire truck is.”
- Ancestry and genetics. Dogs are the descendants of wolves, who are known to howl in order to locate members of their packs. While your four-legged friend may be way goofier and less wild than modern wolves, she may still have an innate urge to howl when hearing similar sounds (a.k.a. sirens).
- Alerting you of a threat. Some believe that dogs howl at sirens because they believe the sound is a sign of danger and want to warn you about it.
- Anxiety. Sirens are a human-made, unnatural sound that usually occur at unpredictable times. Your pal may simply be scared and howling due to stress.
- Expressing discomfort. Dog ears are highly sensitive, leading some to believe that emergency sirens cause pain. “Do sirens hurt dogs’ ears?” is a common question from pet owners, so we’ll discuss this in more detail below.
Why don’t some dogs howl at sirens?
Despite canines in general being known to howl at sirens, there are many dogs that do not. Your buddy’s communication style is personalized to them, and even dogs in the same household may respond differently to environments, stimulation, and noises. When it comes to sirens, some pups may simply be more sensitive to certain noises than others.
While howling at sirens behavior has been observed in all kinds of dogs, some may be more (or less) prone to it based on their genetics.
“There aren’t any specific breeds, but in my experience, [howling] seems it may occur more frequently in herding dogs,” Wilde observes.
Do sirens hurt dog ears?
Since dog hearing is naturally more sensitive than our own, their ears must hurt when sirens are ringing out, right? According to Wilde, that may not necessarily be the case, even if your friend is howling.
“Behavior should always be interpreted in relation to what else your dog is doing at the time,” Wilde explains. “If your dog seems relaxed and doesn’t seem to be trying to get away from the noise, then it’s unlikely the noise is hurting the dog’s ears.” says Wilde.
If you’re concerned about your pet’s reaction to noises, reach out to their veterinarian. It may help to document your pet’s behavior first, particularly if it is happening frequently.
How to stop your dog from howling at sirens
Your dog howling at sirens may not be an indicator of any serious issue, but it could be annoying nonetheless (especially for those who work from home and need peace and quiet!) Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help discourage this behavior.
If your pal is still a puppy, you may be able to effectively train him to stay calm when sirens ring out. Try to keep him calm, and when he manages to stay quiet, reward him with a treat or even a good belly rub. This will not only help your puppy see that staying quiet can be a rewarding experience, but it can also help reduce anxiety around loud noises.
Adult dogs may also still respond to positive reinforcement training, especially if they already know some more basic commands like “down” or “quiet.” Of course, you may still want to shut windows and take your buddy to a quieter end of the house if it seems the siren is getting closer. If you know you are going to be in a situation with a lot of sirens for a while, consider wrapping your buddy’s head in a calming cap to help reduce the stimuli.
It’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian first before trying any new behavior modification with your dog. Your dog’s howling may be getting irritating, but his health and safety should always be the priority.
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