Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?

Howling is a common behavior for domestic dogs and sirens—along with other extended, high-pitched noises—are often a trigger.


If you’ve ever heard dogs howling, you know it can be quite an attention-getter. Howling in response to specific noises, particularly high-pitched, prolonged sounds such as sirens or fire alarms, is common. While sirens can be difficult for noise-sensitive dogs, howling along with them is only rarely a sign that something is wrong. As best we can tell, it usually means your dog just has something to say about the noise.

Why Do Dogs Howl?

There’s a lot we don’t fully understand about canine communication including exactly why dogs howl. That said, educated guesses can be made based on observations of domestic dogs and their closest genetic relatives, grey wolves.

At the most basic level, howling and other canine vocalizations are used to communicate. Studies of wolves howling, which are much more common than similar studies of domestic dogs, suggest that uses for the behavior include locating pack members, warning others away from territory, alerting packmates to prey or danger, and building social bonds. While domestic dogs as a species howl less and bark more than their wild cousins—and domestication has significantly altered how our dogs communicate—the primary reasons for howling appear similar.

Howling at Noises

Given that the purpose of vocalization is to communicate, it’s safe to assume that your dog is trying to tell someone something when she howls along with a passing firetruck. Of the most likely scenarios, one is that she is trying to let you know that something unusual is happening—alerting you in case you didn’t notice the weird, loud sound. Another option may be that she is telling whatever is making the sound to back off because this is her territory.

As discussed in “Why Do Dogs Howl?”, dogs also howl to socialize. The behavior itself can be rewarding for them, especially when accompanied by others. Because of this, what may have started as an alert the first time a dog heard a siren could have, over time, become an excuse for a good howl with the rest of the family or neighborhood pack.

Is Howling at Sirens a Problem?

While the behavior itself is normal, dogs howling can be a problem in two ways. First, howling—and similar-sounding vocalizations such as high-pitched whining, screaming, or barking—can be a sign of distress.

To be clear, the act of howling itself does not mean your dog is upset. If you are concerned that sirens may be frightening to your dog or that the noise is hurting her ears, pay attention to the rest of her body language and behavior. If she is tense, cowering, or hiding in addition to howling, it’s time to help her get away from the sound until you can work on getting her more comfortable with it. If she has fearful or pained reactions every time she hears a siren—some dogs are highly sound sensitive—consider consulting a behaviorist or veterinarian for help.

Second, if you are living close enough to other people that they can hear your dog, the noise may be enough to disturb them—especially at night. That’s not great for building friendly relationships with noise-sensitive family members or neighbors. If your dog’s desire to sing with the sirens is creating tension, some training may be in order.

As with teaching a dog to stop barking, counter-conditioning and desensitization can be used to modify howling at sirens much of the time (see “How to Stop a Dog From Barking”, WDJ Dec. 2023/Jan. 2024). However, if sound sensitivity or anxiety is contributing to the behavior, professional help can be invaluable.