Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?

It is very likely that many people have witnessed the moment when an ambulance passes with the siren activated and the dogs, for some reason, begin to howl loudly.

Some believe that it is due to the pain they feel due to the sensitivity of their ears, but in reality, it is not like that; this is related to the ancestors of dogs.

Apart from the fact that it is a high-pitched sound and that, at times, it can be annoying for some dogs, there are other causes that explain why dogs howl when an ambulance passes.

Reasons Why Dogs Howl at Sirens

There are those who think that it could be a matter of sensitivity of the ears, i. e., that the dog felt pain with that high-pitched sound. But really it’s not so. According to experts, there are several explanations for this behavior:

1.- The first theory would be that dogs confuse the sound of sirens with the howls of other dogs, in the same way, that it happens with wolves, which howl when another member of the pack moves away from the group and so that it can find its way back. What would happen to the dogs is that they believe that the police or ambulance siren would be another dog trying to communicate with them.

2.- The second possibility is that they detect a threat, i. e., they do not know that sound and howl to alert their owner that something is happening in their environment so that they are prevented. When the ambulance has passed, the dog will believe that he has moved away from the threat, will stop howling, and will remain calm.

3.- Contrary to what is believed, the sound of the sirens does not hurt the ears of our dogs since, if it were so, they would hide and become nervous as happens when firecrackers sound.

4.- Finally, if the dog’s howl is persistent and occurs even when no type of siren is heard, it may be because the animal is feeling anxiety about separation from the owner or that it feels bad. In that case, you should consider taking him to the vet.

On the other hand, is good to highlight that dogs are known for their incredible hearing range, which is far superior to that of humans. Compared to what humans can hear, dogs’ hearing is superior (around 65,000 hertz for dogs and just 20,000 hertz for humans).

Some believe that they are likely to hear the siren before their owner notices it, and therefore their sense of obligation to their alpha – that is, their owner – is to inform him of the unfolding situation.

A Form of Communication

As you may know, the domestic dogs that we see today have descended from wolves so they share an evolutionary and genetic origin. This means that our dogs have certain behaviors that wolves also have, such as howling. It can be disturbing for you in case you have more than one dog but just be patient.

On the other hand, wild wolves continue communicating through howling to help the lost ones return with the pack members. This means that howling is a very important way that helps them communicate over long distances since, as we mentioned earlier, they have a much more developed sense of hearing than humans. Therefore, dogs tend to act instinctively when they are howling.

In fact, did you know that, in wolves, each member of the pack howls in a different way? Other animals such as hyenas, foxes, or coyotes also howl.

Why don’t all Dogs React to Sirens?

It is very rare to see or hear that a dog does not howl at the sound of a siren but it may be possible to find some dogs that do not do it, although they would be a minority.

Innately, dogs communicate at a distance so it is possible that when hearing a siren, even from a distance, they are trying to communicate with it, mistaking it for other dogs. However, dogs that do not, may understand that it is not another dog and prefer to ignore it.

If Our Dog Howls with the Ambulances, Should we do Something?

The dog carries out this behavior in an institutional way, so repressing it would be negative, as well as difficult to avoid. Our advice is that you allow it to express itself, but you can also do a few extra things:

  • If you find yourself in the street when it happens, he ignores the howl and continues walking as if nothing, you must act calmly and without paying attention. This will help your dog understand that nothing bad is happening. On the contrary, if you hold him in your arms, pay attention to him or act in a nervous and incoherent way, you are communicating that there are reasons for alarm and may worsen the behavior.
  • Of course, if your dog is afraid and looks for you to hide, you can caress him and give him shelter. Remember that fear is an emotion, it is not reinforced. What you should avoid is reinforcing negative behaviors, such as running, barking, or yelling at him.
  • If you are at home, the best thing to do is to distract him before he starts howling. As soon as you perceive the ambulance, you can take some quick action, or offer it a long-lasting snack for dogs. This will keep him from barking, keep him busy, and distracted, and reinforce him for not howling at the same time.

In the event that the dog howls for no apparent reason, we recommend consulting a veterinarian. Senile dementia in dogs, for example, can cause fears and insecurities, which lead the dog to howl because he is lonely, for example, in his own home. However, many dogs also howl when they are happy when they want to play, eat or simply attract our full attention.

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