Why do dogs howl at sirens? I’m a behaviorist, here’s the answer

Beagle dog howling in the park
(Image credit: Igorr1/Getty Images)

When I first qualified as a dog behaviorist, I often wondered why do dogs howl at sirens. Since 2012, I've worked with many dog breeds and observed that some howl more than others. 

My fiancé and I organized canicross events for over six years. We often had around 150 dogs on-site during event weekends. The dawn chorus of synchronized howling always started with specific breeds, but others joined in.

As a behaviorist, it's my job to understand the meaning behind a dog's behavior. So, this article will explain why dogs howl at sirens, which breeds are more predisposed to howling, and whether sirens hurt dogs' ears. I will also include tips for how to stop the behavior. 

There are several reasons why a dog might howl, and sometimes it could be stress-related. You might enjoy reading our guide to the best dog beds to help keep your dog cozy and secure when he's feeling anxious.

Why do dogs howl at sirens?

Some dogs may be scared of loud noises like a siren. Some woofers genuinely seem to enjoy howling as a fun activity. Let's find out more; here are five reasons why dogs howl at sirens:

1. It's a natural instinct

Dogs have exceptional hearing. When they hear a high-pitched, loud noise, they may feel like joining in with a good howl.

2. Feeling afraid of the siren

Sirens are loud and unpredictable. As the sound gets closer and the volume increases, it can cause a dog to feel scared or confused which can cause howling or barking. If you want to learn more about anxiety in dogs, this guide has everything you need to know.

3. To communicate with other dogs

Dogs naturally want to pass on important messages to other dogs. It's called social facilitation, which means that dogs respond to the behavior of other dogs. When one dog responds to a noise in the neighborhood, other quickly joins the party.

4. Your dog wants to warn you about danger

Even though you can hear the siren, your dog may feel compelled to start howling to warn you about the noise.

5. Your dog could be having fun

For some dogs, barking or howling can be self-reinforcing, and they start enjoying it. They love it even more when their owners join in by shouting!

White dog howling in the park

(Image credit: Claudio.arnese/Getty Images)

What breed of dog howls at sirens?

These dog breeds are more likely to howl at sirens:

1. Huskies

Huskies love to howl and don't need much of an excuse to start singing. We often had as many as 60 huskies attend our canicross event. Imagine the noise of 60 huskies howling at 5am!

2. Beagles

Beagles are vocal dogs with a unique range of sounds. They love baying and howling. If you own a beagle, the entire neighborhood will know about the approaching siren. If you're considering bringing a beagle into the family, you might enjoy reading our beagle breed profile.

3. Dachshunds

As a child, we had a dachshund who loved to howl to Bee Gees music! These little pocket rockets can be highly vocal and are likely to howl at sirens.

4. Basset hounds

Basset hounds are vocal woofers and love to sing along to loud or high-pitched noises, so don't be surprised if your basset hound joins in with the siren.

We know that wolves love to howl, but there are mixed schools of thought on whether dogs descended from wolves. According to Science Daily, wolves may likely be our domesticated dogs' ancestors, which could explain the howling.

Basset hound standing on a rock in the park

(Image credit: Mica Ringo/Getty Images)

Do sirens hurt dogs' ears?

Dogs can hear frequencies between 45,000 to 67,000 Hz compared to around 20,000 Hz for humans. They can locate sounds further away and rotate their ears towards a sound, which we cannot do. That means your dog probably hears the siren long before you do. 

Some dogs have noise phobias triggered by loud bangs, sirens or high-pitched noises. So, although the short-term sound of a siren may not hurt their ears, dogs are more sensitive and potentially reactive to noise. 

Watch your dog for shaking, lip licking, hiding, or lifting a front leg because he could be fearful of noise. For more advice on how to read dog body language, check out this useful feature. 

Black dog howling at the window

(Image credit: Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images)

How do I stop my dog howling at sirens?

Once you have identified the cause of howling, the next step is to focus on a training plan.

1. Avoid joining in with your dog

Avoid shouting at your dog because the additional noise often ramps up the howling. A negative response could reinforce their fear, or shouting may reward the dog if he feels you are "joining in".

2. Give your dog something to do

A phrase that stuck in my mind is, "You cannot teach a dog what NOT to do. You can only teach a dog what to do." To that end, try disrupting the behavior. Without making a fuss, offer a toy, a game of tug, or do something your dog usually enjoys. 

3. Desensitize to noise

Many dogs do not like loud noises, like sirens and fireworks. A positive way to improve your dog's noise sensitivity is to use counter conditioning with gradual exposure to increase noise tolerance.

4. Teach your dog a quiet cue

Reward when your dog doesn't bark or howl.  Even if there is only a few seconds of silence, show your dog this is the desired behavior. Once he understands what you want, add a vocal cue like "quiet."

5. Get help from a behaviorist

If you aren't making progress or your dog seems anxious about noises, it might help to work with a qualified behaviorist.

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Jan Barley
Dog Behaviorist & Writer

Jan is a dog behaviorist and writer living in the Cotswolds, UK. She has shared her life with dogs for over fifty years and is fascinated by behavior. She enjoys helping people better understand their dogs to develop a deep bond and enjoy time together. Jan particularly enjoys working with impulsive and reactive dogs as her legacy from helping Poppy, her rescue Weimaraner cross overcome fear reactivity.