Nov. 9, 2021 – Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that people may not realize that their dog is stressed when exposed to common household noises. While it is well known that sudden loud noises, such as fireworks or thunderstorms, often cause a dog to fear, a new study even finds common noises, such as a vacuum or microwave, can be a trigger. The study was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
Research found that high-frequency, intermittent sounds like a smoke alarm’s battery warning are more likely to cause anxiety in a dog than low-frequency, continuous sounds.
“We know there are many dogs that are sensitive to noise, but we underestimate their fear of noise, which we consider normal because many dog owners cannot read body language,” said lead author Emma Grigg, research fellow and lecturer at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Signs of fear
Some common signs of a dog’s fear include twitching, trembling, or withdrawing, but owners may be less able to spot signs of fear or anxiety when the behavior is more subtle. For example, stressed dogs may pant, lick their lips, turn their heads, or even stiffen their bodies. Sometimes her ears roll back and her head sinks under her shoulders. Grigg suggests that owners learn more about fear-related behavior.
Researchers conducted a survey of 386 dog owners about their dogs’ reactions to household noises and examined recorded dog behavior and human reactions from 62 videos available online. The study found that not only did owners underestimate their dogs’ anxiety, but the majority of people in videos were more amused than concerned about their dog’s welfare.
“There is a discrepancy between the owner’s perception of fearfulness and the extent of the fearful behavior that actually exists. Some are more amused than concerned, ”said Grigg. “We hope this study will get people thinking about the sources of sound that could be causing their dog to stress so they can take steps to minimize their dog’s exposure.”
Some things sound painful to dogs
Grigg said that because dogs have a larger hearing area, some sounds could potentially be painful to a dog’s ears, such as very loud or high frequency sounds. She said minimizing exposure could be as simple as changing batteries in smoke alarms more often or moving a dog from a room where loud noises could be made.
“Dogs use body language a lot more than speaking and we need to be aware of that,” said Grigg. “We feed them, house them, love them and we have an obligation to better respond to their fear.”
Other authors include Lynette Hart, Emily Parker, and Anwyn Gatesy-Davis of the Department of Population Health and Reproduction at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Julianne Chou from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and Sara Clarkson from the Department of Animal Science. The research was supported by the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.