Have you ever been snuggled up on the sofa with your furry little buddy, hot chocolate in hand, enjoying your favourite movie when suddenly, a police car drives past? Then it happens. Your dog ear’s prick up and before you know it, they’ve leaped up from the couch (hopefully not knocking your hot drink all over the floor in the process), ran to the window and have started barking and howling uncontrollably. It’s a familiar situation that most dog owners have experienced, and it can become quite annoying. The real question is, why do some dogs howl at car sirens while others are unaffected by them, and is there anything we can do to stop them?
Could It Be Because Of Their Ancestry?
The first thing we need to do is delve into the history of man’s best friend. As we all know, dogs are descendants of wolves, and as such, some ancient instincts still remain within them. One common theory of this behaviour is that our dog interprets the sirens, or other loud, high pitched sounds, as communication from wolves.
Wolves tend to use howling as a way to locate one another, so a loud, ongoing siren may prompt this. Several animal behaviourists have stated that howling of a wolf or dog can be heard by another from extremely long distances, so imagine the effect of screeching siren from just down the road will have on your pooch!
Dogs are primarily social creatures just like their ancestors and although they no longer live in packs, they still have this mentality, causing them to want to communicate with one another. You may have noticed your dog bark when they hear the neighbour’s dog or a dog on TV. When they hear another dog barking (or a siren!) they may see this as a sign of danger, so will begin barking themselves.
Do Loud Sirens Cause Dog’s Pain?
Is your dog howling at the siren because the noise is actually hurting their ears? We know that a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than humans, so could this be a reason behind the incessant barking? In fact, on average, we humans hear sounds on a range of 20 cycles per second to 20 rHZ, whereas a dog’s range is estimated to be 40 cycles per second to 60 rHZ. Hearing in dogs does vary from breed to breed, for example, Dalmatians have an infamously poor hearing, with only 70% of them being born with normal hearing.
Many owners are left wondering if the barking behaviour is caused by pain since dogs can hear higher frequency sounds than we can. Loud noises can certainly give us a headache, so why wouldn’t they affect our dog’s ears negatively? According to Dr. Laura Hungerford, faculty member of the University of Nebraska, research scientist and veterinarian, this is a possible reason for an onrush of barking. Hungerford explains, “Dogs could feel pain from sounds that weren’t painfully loud to us. Very loud sounds can hurt the ears and if a sound seems too loud to you, it is probably more so to your dog.”
Is Fear Making Your Dog Bark?
The loud screech of the siren could be actually very frightening your precious pup. Canine behaviourists have stated that when a dog feels threatened or scared, they are liable to bark at the source of their fear. Dr. Hungerford expands on this, commenting that “he may associate the sound with particular events or have learned that if he howls, the noise is ‘chased’ away.
You’ve probably witnessed this behaviour in different situations – have you ever walked down the street when your doggy has spied another pooch that they aren’t particularly keen on? Chances are, they will stare them down, square their shoulders and begin barking continuously until the dog disappears out of sight. It might be interpreted by us humans as a sign of aggression, but when a dog does this, it often means that they are feeling vulnerable and are trying to make the other dog go away. If this happens often, your dog will likely associate barking with dispelling unpleasant occurrences.
Ear-splitting noises can be rather discerning to a dog at the best of times, but when they hear threatening sounds near their home, their territorial instincts kick in and, despite their fears, they attempt to ‘defend’ their family from the perceived danger.
Why Don’t All Dogs Bark At Sirens?
Some dogs react to car sirens, whilst other seem completely unaffected by the intrusive noise. We cannot determine the precise amount of dogs that howl at sirens against those that don’t as there has been little research into this behaviour, however, many vets and dog trainers have offered up their suggestions as to why some dogs are unmoved by sirens.
Just like humans, dogs are all different from one another; each with their own unique personalities, quirks and fears. For example, if your dog has an extremely confident and secure demeanour, they probably will choose to ignore the blaring sirens, quite happy to get on with their activities without provocation. However, if your pooch is the nervous type or rather submissive in nature, they are more likely to react to loud noises with a series of barks and howls.
There are many reasons dogs may howl along to sirens, and, unfortunately for our ears, there’s not a great deal we can do about it. Perhaps our pets have an innate need to connect with what they perceive to be other dogs, and ‘bark’ back to the sirens in order to communicate. Or maybe they feel frightened by the offensive sound and are trying to warn us of the presence of danger? Whatever the case, we should do our best to comfort our dogs, do not shout at them when they bark at strange noises, try to make them feel assured and safe by speaking calmly and stroking them. Some of their behaviours might seem odd, but a little love and understanding go a long way!