Why Does My Dog Howl at Sirens?

A police car zooms by. Your dog gives a long, soulful howl. Then he goes back to business as usual. What was that all about? It’s incongruous, like those movies where the cast suddenly breaks into a song and then goes back to work. 

As your dog throws his head back, he resembles a wolf baying at the moon. Some people think this is an instinctive response that harkens back to his ancestral wolf pack, saying, “Here I am. I’m still one of youoooooo!” No one knows for certain. Yet the types of dogs who howl at sirens most often are those who still like to work in packs, such as Huskies, American Eskimo dogs, Malamutes, all manner of hounds, Dachshunds and Beagles. 

Some experts say it’s the high pitch that gets their attention. But are these sirens ‘howling’ at the same notes as a pack call?  It appears that there are no actual studies done. Yet there are plenty of pet parents weighing in on forums.

The American Kennel Club says don’t be so fast to assume that howling means the same thing to dogs as it does to wolves. Dogs have diverged so much from wolves that they bark to talk, instead. Yet researchers and those who live with wolves and coyotes disagree. All three still understand each other through vocalization. Think of the differences as being no more than a difference in dialect.

The sharp sound hurts our ears. Yet, although dogs have much more sensitive hearing than people, they don’t seem disturbed by short exposure. Otherwise, they would cower, pace or try to run away, or show signs of being upset. 

Some pet parents suggest that it’s only the pitch of a siren as it is approaching that sets their dog off on a grand aria. Once the siren passes, the sound drops to a lower level and the dog stops. This change in sound is called the Doppler effect. The sound waves from a siren are really exactly the same coming and going, but as it approaches you, the sound waves become compressed against the eardrum, and what you hear is a higher sound. Does howling help to relieve the additional pressure on the eardrum? No one knows for sure. But if you tilt your head back and open your jaw, your ear may ‘pop,’ releasing pressure. Maybe it helps dogs, too.

The AKC also reminds us that dogs can hear higher frequencies than humans, so what your dog is responding to could even be something we can’t hear at all. So we may never know the reasons why dogs howl at sirens, or why sometimes they choose not to. 

If you don’t want your dog to howl, as with all learned behaviors, gently teach him, “No,” and respond with something positive, like praise. But if you don’t mind the sound, you might just sing along with him!

Heron’s Crossing provides end-of-life care for pets in the Metro Atlanta area. In-home appointments with compassionate vets are available. If you’d prefer a home-like setting away from your home, our Decatur office is also available by appointment.