Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?

by Hannah Roundy

What does it mean when a dog howls at the noise of siren? Until dogs and humans speak the same language, we’ll never know for sure, but there are a few plausible explanations. 

No one wants to hear an ambulance siren speeding down the street in the middle of the night. It’s even more stress-inducing when the sounds trigger your pup to “ah-woo” back. But why do dogs howl at sirens in the first place?

What does it mean when a dog howls?

Dog howling is a normal (but noisy) way for pups to communicate with each other and with humans. This dog behavior dates back to their wolf ancestry. Wolves howl to warn off nearby animals or to announce their presence to their pack.

Of course, domesticated dogs don’t need to communicate the same messages as wild wolves. Modern-day dogs opt for a human family instead of a wolf pack and don’t need to hunt for food. Since dogs are around people more than other animals, what does it mean when a dog howls at a human?

Those primal wolf instincts to howl can kick in when a UPS driver drops off a package or a stranger walks by your house. A loud “ah-woo” is meant to warn you that your pup sees a potential threat near your property. It’s also a message to the stranger to stay away from your home. 

When dogs howl at their pet parents, they could be signaling that they’re anxious or hurt. Dog howling isn’t always a bad sign, though. Pups might howl when they are simply excited or want attention from their humans. 

What does it mean when a dog howls at another pup? Howling can be a warning for the other pup to stay away from their territory. Dogs may also howl to each other to share their location or convey they’re on alert for something suspicious in their environment.

Why do dogs howl at sirens?

It makes sense that dogs communicate with humans and other animals through howling. But why do dogs howl at sirens? Until dogs and humans speak the same language, we’ll never know for sure, but there are a few plausible explanations. 

Sirens from firetrucks, ambulances, or police cars can mimic the sound of a howl. Pups often mistake a siren for another dog, causing them to howl back in response. It’s an acknowledgment that they heard the other pup and are sharing their own location. 

Howling at sirens may also be a dog’s way of warning you of a nearby threat. They might not be worried about the siren, but their first instinct is to inform you something’s wrong just in case. Typically, once your pup sees that you are okay, they will start to calm down. 

Another explanation is simply fear. When humans hear a siren, they instantly identify that it’s coming from a first-response vehicle. It’s alarming for us humans to hear sirens, but we also have comfort in knowing that professionals are taking care of the situation. 

Dogs don’t have that knowledge – so the shrill screech of a siren can startle them. Your pup might start to howl when they hear a siren because they’re nervous or scared. Sirens are literally designed to alarm humans that they are in an unsafe environment, so your dog’s fear is completely understandable. 

How to Stop Dog Howling

It’s completely normal for dogs to react to a siren by howling. For a lot of pups, sirens might not even trigger a reaction to howl. But if ambulances or firetrucks are constantly going down your street, dog howling can get out of hand. 

The best way to stop dog howling habits is to ignore the behavior. Once a siren fades away, dogs will usually stop howling. Reward them with a treat once they are quiet to positively reinforce calm behavior. 

You can even prevent dogs from howling by desensitizing them to sirens and other disruptive sounds. Play city noises, cars honking, and police sirens in a calm setting, and don’t make a big deal about it. This will teach your pup that they don’t need to react to sounds that they will eventually hear at some point.

Dog Howling in Different Breeds

Some dogs hardly ever make a sound while others love to constantly bark and howl. Your pup’s breed can actually play a part in their vocality. Some dog breeds are naturally more prone to howling than others. 

Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are famously talkative dog breeds. These pups don’t just howl – they whine, gruff, bark, and just like to babble to let you know how they’re feeling. Maybe it’s because Huskies and Malamutes so closely resemble their wolf ancestors that they love to howl so often. 

When you picture a dog howling, you might think of a hound – and for good reason! Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Foxhounds, and other hound breeds were bred to be hunting dogs. They would howl after spotting or catching prey on hunts, so howling is a natural instinct for them. 

Beagles are another breed that loves to howl. Similar to hounds, Beagles were trained as hunting and scent dogs that would alert their humans with a howl when they caught an interesting smell. The breed will even “sing” with little howls when they are excited. 

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