Researchers from the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences have investigated the occurrence of anxiety from exposure to noise and the risk factors for these behaviours.
Almost half of the owners who were interviewed reported that their dog showed at least one behavioural sign typical of fear when exposed to noises such as fireworks, thunder and gunshots, even though only a quarter had reported their dog as ‘fearful’ of noises.
This suggests that while owners are aware of their pet’s behavioural response when exposed to a loud noise, they do not necessarily recognise this as being indicative of fear or anxiety.
And when owners don’t recognise anxiety, they don’t seek help for it. Less than one-third of dog owners sought help for their dog’s anxiety.
The most commonly reported behavioural signs were vocalising, trembling/shaking, hiding, and seeking the comfort of people. Since trembling and shaking are human responses to fear and anxiety, it seems like these behaviours were recognised more easily.
Other behavioural signs, such as decreased activity or salivation, did not appear to be recognised as often (possibly resulting in under-reporting). Also, signs of urination, salivation and destruction may make owners disappointed or angry, and this may over-ride the association with anxiety.
Risk of anxiety induced by noise increased with age and origin. If dogs lived with the owner who bred them, they had a reduced risk compared to dogs purchased from the breeder by a second owner. The researchers suggest a dog’s early life experience is an important factor in the development of fear response.
The researchers recommend there is a need for veterinarians to increase awareness among the general dog owning public about anxiety induced by loud noises and to direct them towards appropriate sources of help. (By the way, I’ve worked with dogs using a programme of de-sensitization and relaxation techniques to help treat anxiety).