Tag Archives: noise reactivity

Common household noises may be stressing your dog

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found that people may not recognize that their dog is stressed when exposed to common household noises. While it’s well established that sudden loud noises, such as fireworks or thunderstorms, commonly trigger a dog’s anxiety, a new study finds even common noises, such as a vacuum or microwave, can be a trigger.

UC Davis study finds even common household items like a vacuum cleaner can cause stress and anxiety for dogs. (Photo: Getty)

The study was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

The research found that high-frequency, intermittent noises such as the battery warning of a smoke detector are more likely to cause a dog anxiety, rather than low-frequency, continuous noise.

“We know that there are a lot of dogs that have noise sensitivities, but we underestimate their fearfulness to noise we consider normal because many dog owners can’t read body language,” said lead author Emma Grigg, a research associate and lecturer at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Signs of anxiety

Some common signs of a dog’s anxiety include cringing, trembling or retreating, but owners may be less able to identify signs of fear or anxiety when behaviors are more subtle. For example, stressed dogs could pant, lick their lips, turn their head away or even stiffen their body. Sometimes their ears will turn back, and their head will lower below their shoulders. Grigg suggests owners better educate themselves on anxiety-related behavior.

Researchers conducted a survey of 386 dog owners about their dogs’ responses to household sounds and examined recorded dog behaviors and human reactions from 62 videos available online. The study found that owners not only underestimated their dogs’ fearfulness, but the majority of people in videos responded with amusement rather than concern over their dog’s welfare.

“There is a mismatch between owners’ perceptions of the fearfulness and the amount of fearful behavior actually present. Some react with amusement rather than concern,” Grigg said. “We hope this study gets people to think about the sources of sound that might be causing their dog stress, so they can take steps to minimize their dog’s exposure to it.”

Some sounds painful for dogs

Grigg said because dogs have a wider range of hearing, some noises could also be potentially painful to a dog’s ears, such as very loud or high-frequency sounds. She said minimizing exposure may be as simple as changing batteries more frequently in smoke detectors or removing a dog from a room where loud noises might occur.

“Dogs use body language much more than vocalizing and we need to be aware of that,” said Grigg. “We feed them, house them, love them and we have a caretaker obligation to respond better to their anxiety.”

Source: UC Davis

Ebony’s story

Ebony's photo

This is Ebony; she was a Chocolate Labrador cross – a deep dark chocolate in colour (not milk chocolate like many Labs).  She was my best friend from 1998, when I adopted her via Dogwatch which facilitated a private adoption, to October 2003, when she suddenly succumbed to cancer of the liver and pancreas.

Ebony was highly reactive to sounds and, particularly, fireworks.  So I think of her a lot around Guy Fawkes celebrations each year.

Each year, I’d go to the vet for a prescription for sedatives and then for many nights around the official celebration, I would have to try to dose her before any fireworks started.  This was easier said than done.  As many of us know, people sometimes set off fireworks even before darkness has fallen.  The label recommended intake within 1 hour before any stimulus…

Most of the time, sedatives weren’t enough.  Copious amounts of Rescue Remedy in her water bowl and sprayed around the house didn’t seem to help much, either.  Ebony would run and pace the house, hyperventilating and salivating.  It was heartbreaking to watch.  Sometimes, I would turn the radio on in the car, which was parked in the garage, and I’d put her in the back seat (as usual) with me in the front pretending that any minute we would be going out for a ride.  But in reality, I was just trying to get as many layers of sound-proofing between us and the fireworks that I could.

Ebony wasn’t fooled, although sometimes our car trips to nowhere did help alleviate some of the sounds.

The bottom line was that when Ebony was over-threshold with fear, there wasn’t much that could be done until the fireworks stopped.

One year, we were woken from a sound sleep when someone decided to light off fireworks.  It was late by our standards, past 10 pm when most families and working people would not be up lighting fireworks on a work night.

Ebony was immediately over-threshold, barking and pacing.  And then she lost control of her bowels in our bed.  She was doubly stressed by this, and I had to strip the bed and put everything in the washing machine and re-make the bed with fresh linens.

Another year, Ebony barked so badly that she suffered a rectal prolapse.  She had literally barked herself inside/out; part of her rectum had come out of the anus.   It was incredibly upsetting for the both of us and I knew she was in pain and discomfort, too.  The vet was able to lubricate the tissue and help replace it back inside and I had to feed a low-irritant food to her for a week to ensure that we gave the area a chance to rest.

I clearly remember after this incident how much noise her digestive system made – gurgling – for days.  Looking back, I’m sure that the stress and digestive upsets she endured because of fireworks had something to do with her succumbing to liver and pancreatic cancer – before she even reached aged 10.

So you might wonder why I’m so passionate about the banning of the private sale of fireworks and now you know.  They hurt my dog many times over and when you hurt my dog, I’m unlikely to forget.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand