Why do dogs howl at sirens, ambulances and fire trucks?


Jun 27

Posted by Barkibu editors

Surely you've ever heard a dog howl when he listened to the sound of sirens from an ambulance, police car, or fire truck. It is quite common, especially in certain breeds such as the Nordic or some hunting breeds. What is the reason why our dogs do this? In today's article, we try to identify the causes.

What we are going to tell you in this article you can extrapolate to the sharp sounds that come from music, like those of a flute. Remember that if you have any questions about this question, consult with our online ethologists.

Why do dogs howl when they hear a high-pitched sound?

To understand why dogs howl, we must look at their ancestors the wolves. Howling is a type of vocalization that both dogs and wolves use to communicate.

In wolves, it is more common than in dogs, unlike what happens with barking, which is proper to the dog but not to the wolf. Wolves use howls to communicate, especially at a distance. If after a hunt, for example, the pack has separated, by the howling they indicate their position for the group to meet again.

This purpose of regrouping and locating the position of the other members of the group would explain one of the reasons why our dogs howl when hearing sirens from a vehicle.

Why do dogs howl when they hear music?

Some scientists believe that dogs could identify the sound of ambulances or other sharp sounds with the howl of another dog that tries to indicate his location, and therefore they respond to such sounds. It would be, therefore, a way to indicate their location to the "other dog".

Another reason that is usually thought that dogs howl to these types of sounds is that they are annoying to their ears. Some experts reject it, since the dogs that howl to the sound of ambulances and other vehicles do not hide or try to escape, as often happens with other sounds (firecrackers, thunder,...).

However, we should not forget that the dogs' hearing is much more sensitive than ours for certain types of sound, especially high-pitched sounds (such as the sound of sirens); so a siren too close and too intense could cause some discomfort.

Some people think that dogs howl when they see death

Related to the above, the howl could indicate that something in the environment is not going well, and through this type of vocalization, our dogs try to warn their social group about it. In this case, the purpose would not be to regroup the family, but to warn that there is a danger or threat in the environment.

Be that as it may, it is indisputable that many dogs, especially in the case of certain breeds, howl at the high-pitched siren of certain vehicles; and that howl is often transmitted from one dog to another, stopping the moment the vehicle leaves and the siren stops being heard.

In principle, you should not worry if your dog howls when he hears a siren. If this bothers you, the best thing you can do is ignore him during those moments to avoid reinforcing this behavior, reducing the importance of the fact itself.

A dog could howl for the sound of a flute, for example

However, if your dog howls frequently, you should consider the context in which he does so. For example, the howls when the dog is alone or separated from his family, usually indicate high levels of anxiety and frustration. Also, intense pain can make our dog howl due to discomfort. In these cases, it is advisable to seek the help of a professional to assess the behavior problem and find the best solution for your partner.


Borja Ros Villanueva, veterinarian and ethologist in Adetcan. Adetcan is a project formed by two veterinary ethologists and canine educators who provide counseling, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of behavioral problems in dogs and cats. The service is at home. We are in Santiago de Compostela but we work throughout Galicia.