Dogs bark at a lot of things and howl at a few more. Not every dog will howl when the fire or ambulance siren sounds. But a percentage of canines will respond to sirens by howling. Common theory states that dogs howl at sirens because their ears are sensitive and they are feeling pain. This may not be the case at all.
A dog’s ears may be sensitive to other sounds, including some high-pitched sounds that can cause discomfort. But howling at sirens or other noises may be traced to a different source altogether. In many cases, dogs, wolves and other members of the canine family use howling as a means of communication. When your dog howls at a siren it may be responding just as it would if another dog had howled at a similar pitch.
Where Are You?
Members of the canine family often howl so that they can locate other members of their pack. Dogs may engage in this activity, carrying it over from the past when all dogs lived in the wild. Howling at sirens may be instinct coming out in a domesticated pet. Next time a siren sets your dog into a howling “fit” listen to see if other animals respond to your pet’s howl.
If you listen closely you may be able to determine if a dog is responding immediately to a siren or follows up, responding to the howl from the first dog. This natural behavior has been widely used in movies and animation. Dogs can communicate over long distances with their howls. This might work especially well at night, when the air is cool and still.
Howling isn’t the only action among dogs that is “contagious.” You have probably noticed that barking is a shared experience as well. One animal might sense some danger and start barking, to scare the intruder and to warn other dogs that there is a threat to the group. Dogs have continued this activity after domestication. That’s why your family pet might join in the barking “ceremony” even if it doesn’t see the threat or even see the other dog!
Not every dog will howl at a siren. Some dogs don’t join in when a number of animals start barking. These same dogs may howl sometimes and not at other times. This depends on whether the dog hears the same sounds or senses the same dangers as the other dogs. An individual animal may not feel threatened or uncomfortable and may remain quiet.
One of the most interesting ideas about howling and barking is that some dogs may feel uncomfortable in the presence of only humans and may being barking to see if other dogs will respond. Some dogs might start barking and howling more often for just the opposite reason – if it is spending too little time among humans. The bottom line is that different sounds may cause a dog to start howling, just as different activities may cause the dog to start howling. It’s usually not caused by pain in the ears.