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Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens and Horns?

Close up a happy dog

Dog owners worldwide are quite familiar with Fido joining in to the different noises he encounters in his day to day life. From barking at the vacuum cleaner to baying at the mailman to letting out raucous bellows at smoke alarms, fireworks, or even claps of thunder, it seems every dog likes to make some noise. It is impossible to deny the fact that dogs do like to vocalize, and many do so in response to auditory stimuli within or near their home environment. If you have a dog that shrieks and howls at the sound of police sirens or horns, you are not alone. Many dogs respond by barking, shrieking, or howling in response to the noises vehicles make. What is more challenging to figure out is why our dogs do this. What makes dogs howl at sirens and horns?

Is There Any Science Behind the Screaming at Sirens?

Though our dogs have long been domesticated animals, they still resort to their primal instincts from time to time. To communicate with one another in the wild, wolves, the dogs’ earliest predecessor, would make howling noises. This type of sound carried across a vast amount of terrain and would act as a sort of homing signal to help each wolf identify where the other was.

It is possible that the sound of a siren or horn is reminiscent of the howl a wolf would make. Its pitch and tone could easily sound quite similar. In response to preprogrammed instincts in our dogs, it is highly possible that pooches respond with a howl because it feels like the right thing to do in response to the noise.

Another distinct possibility is that our dogs interpret the sound of a siren or horn as communication from another animal. Their howl in response is simply their means of sharing their own message and continuing the exchange of information.

Howling as a response to fear, danger, annoyance, or threat is another viable explanation. It is quite common for a dog who hears another dog barking to simply join in. The reaction in a dog seems quite natural and almost as if the dog can’t help himself. The barking or howling is intensified if the dog senses danger may be imminent.

Lastly, some dogs howl to alert family members and friends to the presence of what they perceive as trouble. This intuitive response can actually be quite helpful, though in truth, a wailing siren is hard to ignore! Your dog’s hearing is so sharp that he will often pick up on the noise long before it reaches your ears thus giving you fair warning that danger may be on its way.

Could Howling at Sirens or Horns Be a Response to Pain?

Though all dogs do possess much keener hearing than human beings, some breeds have a much more acute degree of this sense than others. Age is also a factor in how sounds affect our dogs’ ears.

It is possible that the high-pitched sound of a siren or horn hurts our dogs’ ears, and that’s is why they howl in response. If this were the case, it would be an involuntary reaction to a painful stimulus. However, veterinarians acknowledge that while it is possible, it certainly cannot be considered to be an accurate explanation in every howling case. A more probable cause would be a reaction to a predetermined situation. Dogs are incredibly smart and can learn to associate sounds with behavioral responses. If a dog has come to understand that if he howls, the noise he dislikes will cease; he will continue to howl every time he hears it.

Why is this?

Because Fido has learned that his response to an unpleasant situation yields him the desired result. Hence, every time a siren or horn blares, he will begin to howl, believing that his howling will put an end to the noise he dislikes.

However, some noises are uncomfortably loud or high-pitched and can hurt a dog’s sensitive ears. Any noise that bothers your ears will bother your dog’s even moreso. But it is important to note that howling is not typically any dog’s go to response to pain. If your dog truly was hurting from the noise of a siren or horn, it is far more likely that he would tuck his tail between his legs and/or run and hide. It is a natural response to move away from an uncomfortable stimulus not closer to it. So, this theory is far less likely to be plausible on the whole.

Do All Dogs Howl at Sirens or Horns?

Not all dogs howl at sirens or horns.

Why is that?

It is very difficult to quantify why one dog howls at a certain noise, and another does not. The simplest answer is just as humans differ in likes, dislikes, and personality traits, so do dogs. The truth is some dogs will howl at a siren or horn for any of the reasons listed above. Some may feel some primal connection to the sound and respond with a shriek purely out of instinct. Still, others may do it as a learned response which in the past has yielded their desired result. Since our dogs can’t talk to us to tell us what their motivating factors are, we can only assume.

How Can I Stop My Dog from Howling at Sirens and Horns?

It is extremely difficult to teach your dog to stop howling at sirens once it has become an ingrained habit. The best thing you can do is to simply ignore the behavior as best you can. You must take care never to express pleasure when your dog howls at the sound of a horn; no matter how adorable it might sound. Dogs respond exceptionally well to positive reinforcement; thus, your delight at his howling is sufficient reward for him to repeat the behavior again.

Another approach is to use positive reinforcement to your advantage by lavishing praise and very yummy treats on your dog when he chooses to remain quiet rather than howling at a siren. Over time, it may be possible to desensitize your pooch to this sound.

Does your pooch think police sirens are the song of his people?

If so, he is not alone! Though it is very difficult to pinpoint precisely what your dog gets out of howling along, we can come to some logical conclusions that might explain this behavior that seems so odd to us.

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