Why Do Dogs Howl When They Hear Sirens? (Explained)

Why Do Dogs Howl When They Hear Sirens? Photo of a dog howling at a siren.

Dogs howl and bark to communicate, just like humans will talk and point. What does it mean when your dog howls at sirens? Take a look and see for yourself!

There are several interpretations of why dogs howl when they hear sirens. The most common one is that they interpret the sound as a threat, and they are trying to get your attention to let you know about it. The second one is that it’s another dog howling in the distance to them. Your dog will howl to tell them how to get “home to the pack.” The third reason is that the high pitch of sirens is uncomfortable to their sensitive ears, so they howl to “drown it out.”

Why do dogs howl when they hear sirens?

As introduced above, there are several interpretations of the reason behind your dog’s howling every single time that they hear a siren in real life or on TV:

Sirens as a threat

Sirens are strange and sudden sounds that, to your dog, have no relevance. They come out of nowhere and are reasons for concern because they’re getting closer to your dog.

Your dog wants to protect you and himself, so he starts to howl. He is alerting you and the rest of his pack to the danger of the siren and will continue to do that until the danger has passed (i.e., the siren stops).

Since dogs have no way to understand that sirens are signs of help or emergency. Rather than some sort of predator, it doesn’t register that they don’t need to howl at them every time they come on. They may even do this if the siren is on TV! TV sirens are often especially confusing since they are in the house and they are more constant in their location to the dog!

Sirens misunderstood as another dog howling

Dogs will howl at each other in a real-life version of Marco Polo. This is how lone dogs find their way back in the wild. Dogs can interpret sirens as another dog howling. Your dog wants to help this “lost dog” find his way back home, so he howls to help the dog get closer and find his way back.

This is more common in some dog breeds than others, and some dogs may try to match their howl with the “howl” they are hearing so that it gets to the “lost dog.” It’s sweet and very considerate of your dog to do that, even if it makes no sense to us!

Sirens make them nervous

Dogs have pretty sensitive ears. This means that the sirens can sometimes be uncomfortably loud for your dog, and they will howl because they are nervous. It often starts out as whinging and then turns into full-fledged howling because they are in distress.

It makes sense when you think about it. Since a dog’s ears are stronger than ours, and sirens can make our own ears ring, dogs have extreme discomfort combined with a lack of understanding of why this sound is around in the first place or what it means. There are even dogs who are scared of sirens because the sound is so uncomfortable and confusing.

No one answer is absolutely correct or incorrect, and it might even be a blend of one or more reasons. However, at least these explanations will help you to understand a bit more about what’s going on in your dog’s mind.

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Why does my dog howl at fire engine sirens but not ambulance sirens?

Is your dog especially picky in what sirens they howl at? It’s actually more common than you’d think! Some dogs may howl at fire engines but no ambulances. Or, ambulances, but not police cars.

Some may only howl at one particular type of siren, rather than the different kinds of sirens that they can cycle through (for example, the long, haunting old-fashioned wail of a fire engine versus the sharper, quicker ones of modern firetrucks). The list goes on.

The reason is that some sounds will be a more upsetting reaction causing than others. It may not be the same from one dog to the other, and the reason may be entirely different, too. 

The other option is that dogs will become more accustomed to one or two sirens than the others. As they adapt and understand that sirens are just like every other noise, they will stop howling. But if there is a different kind of siren, they’ll howl at this “unfamiliar” type of siren.

This is common if you move to a different state or even a different country where the sirens will, inevitably, sound different enough to get your dog’s attention!

Do sirens hurt a dog’s ears?

There’s no evidence that sirens will hurt your dog’s ears; however, most experts agree that a dog’s ears will be uncomfortable with the sound of the siren. Again, this is similar to humans, so it’s not so hard to understand.

However, if your dog is at close range to a siren for an extended period. In that case, they possibly may suffer from some hearing damage.

Why do some dogs ignore sirens?

If you have the opposite “problem” where dogs don’t even appear to have heard the sirens, you don’t need to be alarmed. Some dogs just adapt to the sounds of sirens because they’ve been exposed to them their entire lives and don’t react to them anymore. This is particularly common with something like a rescue dog or those who live in city centers where sirens are there at all hours of the day!

The other explanation is that your dog may not hear them. As dogs age, their hearing loss starts from the top range and works its way down. Sirens may fade from their capacity to hear as this sets in. This could also be the case if they were born with hearing damage that you may or may not know about.

Dogs don’t need to howl at sirens to be healthy, so you may actually find that you are pleased with your dog’s lack of howling rather than concerned! However, you can always check with your vet if you’d like an expert’s opinion! 

Why do dogs howl when they hear high-pitched noises?

Dogs may howl at all sorts of high-pitched noises rather than just sirens. For example, smoke detectors, whistles, kids screaming, and more. If your dog just howls at everything high-pitched, it could be for any of the reasons listed above!

What to do if your dog howls at sirens?

It’s totally understandable if you want to try to change your dog’s behavior when it comes to howling at sirens. It’s not a bad thing to do, after all, since you know there’s no “good” reason for your dog to howl at sirens, and it can get pretty disruptive!

However, when approaching this, take a moment to think about why your dog is howling. That is, where exactly the behavior is coming from. Howling at sirens is not a learned behavior but rather a biological/instinctive one. This means that you shouldn’t punish them for doing it. However, you can undoubtedly retrain the behavior!

How to stop your dog from howling at sirens

You can take two approaches based on your dog’s personality and why you think your dog is doing it. 

The first approach is to ignore the howling itself. If your dog realizes that you don’t care, that you’re calm, and that there is no danger, they will stop, too. This can be challenging in the learning process, of course, but it’s a great way to build a respectful and calming relationship with your dog!

The second approach that you can take, either after the first one or instead of it, is to treat your dog every time he hears a siren and doesn’t howl. He’ll learn to associate good things with not howling at sirens and will stop howling at them. You’ll want to make sure to use a treat that he loves or use cuddle time instead. Whatever you think your dog will respond to most.

Are dogs upset when they howl?

Dogs can howl if they are upset, but often, but this is not often the case. Howling, to us, is a noise of pain or fear. However, it’s loud and recognizable to dogs and will get your attention. Howling is your dog’s siren, in essence! Dogs will howl to signify a problem that needs attention, and they do so to get you to pay attention or come and see what’s going on.

In short

Dogs howl at sirens because they let you know that there is danger nearby and approaching. They also may howl at sirens because they think another dog is trying to find his way “home to the pack.” Or, they are uncomfortable with the sound and are letting you know or trying to drown it out with a noise of their own.

Understanding how to retrain this behavior is essential for modern, city-dwelling pet parents!

Howling at every siren may be annoying for modern dog parents, especially those who live in the city, but it is common. Your dog is just trying to help you know that there’s a “problem” going on around you.

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Hi, I'm Andre and I'm the owner of Sula the Border Collie. I love writing about this amazing dog breed here. I joined the Council to be able to reach and educate more people on the joy of having a pet dog.