Why Do Dogs Howl?

This scenario is one most of us have encountered before: You’re out on your daily walk with your dog, and suddenly, a police siren or a firefighter’s siren begins blasting. You look around and continue with your walk, but your dog stops and starts howling at the sound. You may have thought he was just imitating the sound he was listening to, or maybe he simply became startled at the unusual sound; but there is actually another explanation as to why some dogs often do this.

As dogs are descendant of wolves, one of the most recognized theories regarding their sudden howling is linked to the way wolves communicate. Wolves are social animals, and more often than not travel in packs. They then sometimes disperse to fend for food, and use howling as a way of primitive GPS system to locate one another. Likewise, if wolves perceive a dangerous predator or threat, they howl as a way to alert the others that danger might be near.

These instances of wolf howling are similar to certain circumstances in which dogs often howl. For instance, when they hear loud sirens, they may be howling as a way of saying ‘Hey I’m over here!’, just as the locating howls of wolves. Howling at other nearby dogs on their territory may be indicating they feel threatened by others’ presence, just as wolves howl at predators. Animal behaviorists and specialists believe that howling as a way of communication is likely to still remain embedded in dogs’ genetic code.

Dogs’ hearing abilities also enable them to hear such noises from a broader distance. The average human, for instance, is able to hear noises on a range of 20 cycles per second to 20 rHZ, while dogs’ possess a much broader listening range of 40 cycles per second to 60 rHZ.  Despite being able to hear that much more than humans do, loud noises such as sirens don’t typically hurt your dog’s ears. Contrary to popular belief, dogs don’t howl at sirens simply because they hurt their ears and want the sound to stop. If this were the case, they would hide from the noise and act nervously with their tails between their legs. Most dogs, however, do the exact opposite and seem to try to get closer to the sound while howling.

So next time you are out and about and your dog starts howling at one of these sirens, stop and marvel at the mysterious ways in which dogs still manage to surprise us.

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