A dog’s behavior can often prove confusion to their loved humans. We are surprised when our dogs give a ladybug the same greeting as they would give a home intruder, or on how some dogs like to eat their own or another dog’s poop. But why do dogs howl at sirens? Is there some genetic predisposition to responding to a high-pitched alarm from passing emergency vehicles? I believe the main reason come down to two words: canine communication.
Our four-legged loved, domesticated, playful friend is actually descended from a distinctly more feral animal: the wolf. And if there is one thing we associate with wolves, it is howling.
Through howling, wolves and dogs communicate their location to the other members of their pack. In the past, this was a vital communication stream to use when pack members got lost during a hunt. In today’s world, your dog isn’t out hunting, hopefully, but they still have the innate pack mentality that forces them to respond to howls from their brethren.
And that is no different when the high pitch peal of the siren is heard by a dog within their own walls, and as they have no context for ambulances or fire trucks, many will interpret it as howl. Some dogs will start howling at a siren even if they recognize that this sound doesn’t belong to another animal. This is usually because they want to alert you, ‘the member of the pack’, that something loud and unexpected is happening that you should be aware of it. Dogs have an incredible range of hearing, they can hear up to 45 Hz (compared to us on the 23 Hz house). They will hear the siren before we do, and so, they feel responsible to make their alpha (in this case, their owner) aware of the situation.
There is also the hypotheses that dogs may also be communicating their fear and anxiety at the sound and even annoyance that is hurting their ears if it is particularly loud and close. As the siren fades away, dogs may believe that their howling is responsible for quieting it down. They may think that they are doing the neighborhood a favor and will probably patting themselves on the back for their heroic and helpful howl!
So next time you hear one of those irksome sirens, and your dog simply insists on getting involved, remember, they are just trying to communicate and to keep you safe!