When a police or fire engine siren approaches from somewhere down the street, you might be covering your ears for more reasons than one. Your dog might be in the habit of breaking out into a howl every time a siren passes by, and that howl might continue on until the siren has completely passed out of earshot. Those who live in cities or near high-traffic main roads might have to deal with this behavior more frequently than they’d like, and it can be difficult to quiet a dog down and redirect this behavior. Though not all dogs howl at sirens, the behavior can seem unstoppable in dogs that do. If you are wondering why dogs bark or howl at sirens, and what to do about it, here are some things you should know.
The Root of the Behavior
A lot of people fear that their dogs are barking or howling in pain at the sound of an approaching siren. Typically, when a dog is in pain, they attempt to flee or display several other signs of injury and fear. This is not the case for dogs howling at passing sirens. The truth is that dogs that bark or howl at sirens may be actively responding to an ancient call of the wild. Howling is a form of communication over long distances that dogs have been practicing for centuries. It is possible that the sound of an approaching siren triggers this instinctive reaction in dogs. The behavior might start in one dog who believes that it hears the call of another dog and spread through other dogs until the entire neighborhood is ablaze with howls and long-distance calling.
Howling is a trait shared among other types of animals, as well. Another possible reason for your dog’s howling behavior is that your dog may be interpreting the police or fire engine sirens as the call of an unknown animal. Due to the size and magnitude of the “howl” of an emergency vehicle siren, your dog might instantly interpret this sound as a threat. It may be howling to call for you, and to warn you that danger is approaching quickly. If you are wondering why your dog doesn’t panic after the engine has passed, it is possible that your dog has associated its howling with the siren going away. Even though the reality is simply the siren moving on to its destination, your dog may feel that its howls were enough to drive the intruder away and may repeat this behavior in the future.
You may also have a hand to play in your dog’s howling behavior. If you regularly attempt to quiet your dog down with punishment, or if you try and calm your dog down with affection, you may be teaching you dog that its howling is rewarded with your attention. This is easily remedied, and it is completely natural for a dog owner to respond to their dog’s howling in one way or another. You will need to find a creative way to teach your dog to stay silent as sirens pass by. Even negative reinforcement is a type of attention, and your dog may continue the behavior to get this attention from you.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your dog is howling to get your attention, you will want to take some steps to train the behavior out of your dog. Ignoring your dog or ceasing to react to its barking and howling is one way to get the behavior to go away over time. Yelling at your dog, reacting to the situation, or even shushing your dog is a form of giving attention. You will need to try and completely ignore both the siren and your dog’s howls in order to communicate that you aren’t interested in the siren or in what your dog has to say about its approach. If howling persists, or if you don’t have reason to believe that you are incentivizing your dog to howl at sirens, then you may wish to train your dog to be quiet during the passing of sirens. This involves establishing “quiet” or another word as a command word and teaching your dog to associate silence with a treat. You can start by rewarding your dog for ceasing to howl during the passing of sirens and work your way up to progressively longer periods of silence until your dog is silent from the outset. If you don’t want to wait for a firetruck or police car to pass by every time, some dogs respond to quality recordings of sirens!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some dogs are more prone to howling than others, according to their breeding purposes. If you have a dog that falls under the hound or northern wolf breed categories, you may have to deal with this howling in more than just passing sirens. Additionally, some dogs howl at sirens because they are bored. You may notice that your dog’s howling continues on long after the siren has passed, and you have to make extra efforts to get your dog to settle down. In these cases, you can try giving your dog new and exciting toys, playing with them more, or addressing their boredom in creative ways. This may limit their howling and barking, along with other behaviors that they may be displaying due to boredom.
Sirens may not be another dog, but there’s no way that your dog could know that. If you don’t want an additional siren to go off in your house every time a policeman or firefighter drives by, try working with your dog to reward silence. After you figure out the sirens, you can work with your dog on staying quiet when that pesky mailman comes around!