Why do some sounds make my dog howl?
In days gone by, it was thought that certain noises were just too painful for Fido’s delicate ears to tolerate (i.e. sirens, police cars, fire trucks or even the neighbor’s kid practicing his clarinet). It was thought that Fido’s only way to minimize his discomfort was through howling. We now know that is not necessarily the case — obviously, if the sound were truly painful, most dogs would first try running away to escape the agony; a display of this flight response would definitely show the presence of some sort of audible distress.
Not to say that there are no sounds that could cause irritation to people and dogs (think of me listening to that painful clarinet student) but to Fido, musical appreciation is not a factor. However, with his exceptional and superior range of hearing, common sense would dictate that if a sound is loud enough to be painful to people, it must be excruciating to dogs.
By today’s standards, it is pretty well accepted that (volume aside) the howling made by a dog is simply a by-product of Fido’s genetic past. No matter Fido’s breed, he is a descendant of the wolf.
Being a pack animal, the wolf’s only way of long-distance communication with other pack members is by exchanging some back and forth howls. (No… they are not nor have ever been howling at the moon.)
So, in keeping with this pack theory, it isn’t too far a reach to think that the howl of a police siren would call up that same instinctual wolf-like response in Fido to return the howl, and communicate to his imaginary pack by howling, “Hey guys, I’m over here.
Evidence to this is something that most people can relate to.
Picture this: it’s a quiet summer’s night, and you are in bed ready for a restful night’s sleep. All of a sudden, you hear a siren in the distance. Then, as if scripted, you hear the howl of a dog, who is doing a nice and harmonious double act with the siren, then another dog howls in response to the duo, and then still another to the trio, until there is a veritable chorus of dogs, all howling to reveal their presence to each other.
Some dogs truly feel that basic instinct to respond to the source of the sound, accepting as true that the sound they hear is a dog or dogs conversing from some far-off place. However, some dogs are never able to wake-up their primal need to communicate with the rest of the canine population.
It doesn’t matter either way, just remember that not all dogs or people are created equal. More importantly, just remember that everyone has their own unique set of abilities.
Afterthought: If you want to train a fun trick, you can train Fido to howl on command by finding whatever triggers him to howl, (to get you started, try different musical instruments) and then reinforcing the behavior every time it is presented.
Then once the behavior is solid, you put the behavior on cue. Use your imagination to come up with something funny as the cue.
If this afterthought sounds incomprehensible to you, for a complete explanation of Positive Reinforcement training, please check out my Feature Article on Clicker Training found on this site.