Why Do Dogs Howl When They Hear a Siren?
Howling is one of your pup's vocalizations, which he uses to communicate with you and other dogs. Dogs may howl out of pain, loneliness or when provoked by a sound. A common trigger is the noise of a fire engine's siren blaring within hearing distance of your pooch. If Fido's howls are frequent and bothersome, desensitize your pooch to this sound with training.
Answering the Call
When speeding to put out a fire, a fire engine emits a very loud, wailing siren, similar to that of an ambulance, to clear drivers and pedestrians out of its way. From a distance, this sound is a lot like that of a dog's howl. Curious, Fido may answer what he perceives as another dog saying hello by howling back to the "dog" that's actually a siren, according to "Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide: Good Health, Loving Care, Maximum Longevity." Howling is generally a long-distance form of canine communication, so it makes sense that Fido would believe that another dog, from a significant distance away, is calling to him.
Responding to Pitch
The wail of a fire engine siren contains loud, high-pitched tones, which may sound even higher to your pooch. According to the Doppler Effect, your dog perceives the pitch of a siren as higher than it is when a moving fire engine approaches his location and lower than it is when it drives away. Dogs can hear high-pitched sounds up to 45 Hz, compared to humans who can only hear up to 23 Hz, according to Louisiana State University. With their superior hearing, some dogs will howl at the siren out of frustration at this annoying sound, containing high-pitched tones that you can't hear. Fido might even find that his howling at the sound makes it stop -- when actually, the fire engine is simply driving away.
Howling to Alert
Upon hearing a fire engine siren, your pooch may howl at you as a way to alert you to the presence of this strange, loud sound. This type of response is inadvertently reinforced if you attempt to soothe him when he howls at a passing siren. Any type of attention, even negative attention in the form of yelling at your pup to quiet down, gives your dog the message that if he howls at the siren, you'll take notice, according to WebMD. Completely ignoring your pup when he howls at a siren may eventually stop this type of behavior if it's for the purpose of getting your attention.
Dealing with Howling
While the occasional howl due to a passing fire engine's siren isn't an issue, if you live near a fire station, it could become a problem. Play a recording of a fire engine siren or wait for a real one to drive by. Say "quiet" to your pup when he starts howling and feed him a series of very small pieces of chicken to keep him from vocalizing, recommends the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You can also wait to see if he stops howling while the sound is still going and reward him with the treats. Eventually, he'll learn that silence results in rewards and will become silent on command.
WebMD: Howling in Dogs Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide: Good Health, Loving Care, Maximum Longevity Matthew Hoffman VPI Pet Insurance: Why Dogs Howl at Sirens
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Howling
University of California Santa Barbara
ScienceLine: Louisiana State University: How Well Do Dogs and Other Animals Hear?
School for Champions: Doppler Effect Equations for Sound
American Kennel Club: Ask AKC Boulder's
Natural Animal Veterinary Hospital: Awwwooooooo! What's in a Dog's Howl?
More Than You Think Pennsylvania State University: The Doppler Effect and Sonic Booms
MSNBC -- The Maddow Blog: Quest: Why Dogs Howl at 'Law and Order'
About the Author
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, crafts, television, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared in "The Southern California Anthology" and on Epinions. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.