The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They are friendly, intelligent, highly capable, and very tolerant. They are also very good at retrieving game, hence their name. In addition, Golden Retrievers are natural athletes, so they have a lot of energy to burn. However, there are potential drawbacks to the breed. He is not a good choice if you are looking for a watchdog. One of the most common things that Golden Retriever owners complain about is that they just seem to love howling at sirens. Imagine lying in your bed to finally rest after a long day’s work only to hear sirens and your dog howling like his life depended on it.
The Root of the Behavior
Even your beloved, domesticated, loving, and playful Golden Retriever is descended from a fierce animal: the wolf! One of the most associated things with wolves is howling! In the animal world, howling is used by dogs as a means of communication to alert the pack of their location. In the past, howling was a vital tool to let other wolves know that a member of their pack was hurt or got lost during a hunt. Although your dog is not out hunting with the wolf pack today (hopefully), he still has that natural pack mentality and sometimes he cannot control responding to howls from other dogs. To dogs, the high pitch of the siren is similar to a howling animal as they have no context of what an ambulance or a fire truck is.
Once your dog starts howling at a siren, you can bet that the other animals in the neighborhood will follow suit, they are alerting each other of their locations. Once the sound fades away, the howling will stop because the dogs think that their lost comrade has finally found his way home. Your Goldie may also howl at the siren simply because they want to alert you. You are a member of his pack and he wants you to know that there is something out there that is loud and unexpected, so you better be prepared for it. Your Goldie may also be howling because he is scared, or the sound is making him anxious. His ears might even hurt because the sound is particularly close and loud. Once the ambulance or police car moves away, Goldie might think that his howling is responsible for quieting down that infernal sound. He might think that he just did the whole neighborhood a big favor! He will believe so even though it is not true.
Encouraging the Behavior
You definitely do not want your Goldie to be howling at sirens, especially at night. So, how do you put a stop to the behavior? It may be difficult to do because of their ancestry but it is not impossible. There are a few easy changes you can make to prevent your dog from howling at sirens. Refrain from paying attention to your dog’s howls because if you do he will take that as a cue to keep howling in the future. If he starts howling, do not yell or punish him because these will not help at all. In fact, it will encourage him to howl more.
Stay relaxed when you hear sirens. You can also teach your dog to be quiet at a signal from you. Be sure that you have plenty of edible rewards handy that you can give him when he follows the “be quiet” cue. He can’t howl and eat at the same time so he is likely to choose the latter. There are also dogs that howl at sirens because of anxiety or being scared of the sound. This can be corrected by desensitizing your dog or counter-conditioning him. One of the steps you can take is to train him using a recorded siren sound to hasten the process of counter-conditioning.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your Golden Retriever howls at pretty much everything, not just the sirens, you may be dealing with a more complex behavioral problem. Dogs may also howl when they are injured or sick. If you find your pooch making plenty of noise without any external stimuli such as the sound of sirens, it is a must that you observe him closely as he may be in pain. Another reason for seemingly random howling is loneliness and anxiety. Your dog may be unable to cope when he is left alone, especially for long periods of time. If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, he may display other destructive behaviors, such as soiling inside the house.
It is not uncommon to hear sirens every now and then especially if you live in an urban area. The last thing you want is for your Golden Retriever to start howling every time he hears sirens. With proper training, time and effort, you will be able to correct his behavior and keep him quiet.
By a Chow Chow lover Jhoana Carla de Toro
Published: 04/26/2018, edited: 01/30/2020