Are Dogs Howling Like Wolves?

The sound of howling dogs may remind us of wolves in the wild calling to one another.

Howling wolf

In fact, this is the more popular explanation for why dogs howl at sirens. Wolves use howling as a method of communication and as a sort of primitive form of GPS to locate one another.  Dogs, as descendants of wolves, may be expressing this instinctual behavior when prompted by the sound of a siren.  As social pack animals, dogs may be interpreting a siren—or other high pitched sounds such as a flute, clarinet, or a particular TV theme song—as communication.

Animal behaviorists and researchers point out that howling can be heard by the keen ears of wolves—and dogs—from long distances, hence making it the preferred choice of communication.

Chalk it up to pack mentality:  Some dog owners may have noticed their dog howling in response to a neighbor’s dog. This behavior can be compared to the basic “contagious” response most dogs have when they hear another dog barking.  They begin to bark themselves especially if they sense fear, danger, or a threat.

Do Sirens Hurt Dogs’ Ears?

Just as with people, a dog’s hearing ability depends on its age as well as its breed. Dogs hear a higher frequency of sounds than a person, which is why ultrasonic signals such as those used in training whistles can be heard by dogs.

This has led some to wonder if the sound of sirens actually hurts a dog’s ears. When we hear a loud sound, we tend to cover our ears with our hands to block out the noise. Are dogs howling in response to ear-splitting noise?

Veterinarians do not believe this is always the case. According to Dr. Laura Hungerford, a veterinarian and research scientist, and faculty member at the University of Nebraska, a dog isn’t always howling at a sound because it hurts his ears.

“He may associate the sound with particular events or have learned that if he howls, the noise is ‘chased’ away.”

Pain results from sounds that are much louder than the threshold of hearing. “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.”

We know that dogs can hear much better than we can,  The average human hears noise on a range of 20 cycles per second to 20 rHZ, while a dog’s range of hearing is approximately 40 cycles per second to 60 rHZ.

Veterinary behaviorists point out that most dogs do not run and hide, tuck their tails, or react in such as way that would indicate they’re feeling pain due to the sound of sirens.

Why Don’t All Dogs React to Sirens?

Howling dog

While research hasn’t been conducted to determine the exact percentage of dogs who howl at sirens versus those that haven’t, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that dogs, like people, are simply different from one another.

Perhaps some dogs feel an intuitive need to connect with the source of the sirens believing that it is actually a pack of dogs communicating from afar. Other dogs might feel confident and secure where they are and opt to ignore the sound.


This entry was posted in Spring Edition 2013. Bookmark the permalink.

Please Leave a Comment or Question

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *