Common household noises can trigger anxiety in dogs, scientists say

Common household noises may be stressing your DOG: High pitched, intermittent sounds such as the battery warning of a smoke detector cause the most anxiety for pups, study warns

  • Experts looked at online videos of dogs reacting to common noises in the home
  • They found a range of dog responses, such as jumping, retreating and spinning
  • Human owners in the videos showed signs of amusement or even antagonism  

Whether it’s the blast of fireworks on bonfire night or a thunderstorm on a rainy day, many dog owners know how loud noises can trigger anxiety in dogs. 

Now, researchers in California have warned that even common noises around the home can be triggers for dog anxiety too. 

The experts analysed 62 videos of dogs reacting to common noises posted to YouTube, focusing on the reactions of both dogs and their owners. 

Their results suggest that high-frequency, intermittent sounds such as the battery warning on a smoke detector cause the most anxiety for pups. 

Sadly, signs that a pet canine is anxious can be overlooked by owners or even misconstrued as quirky or amusing behaviour, according to the study. 

Some human owners in the videos showed signs of amusement or even antagonism ‘to get the desired reaction’. 

Common noises around the home are anxiety triggers for dogs, such as the battery warning on a smoke detector, the droning sound of a microwave or the constant hum of a vacuum cleaner (stock image)

ANXIETY-INDUCING NOISES 

The study authors analysed 62 videos of dogs reacting to common noises posted to YouTube. 

Dog responses were stronger to ‘high frequency intermittent‘ sounds than to ‘low frequency continuous‘ sounds, the study found.

High frequency intermittent 

– Smoke detector warning beeps or chirps 

– Telephone ringing 

– Cries of a human baby 

Low frequency continuous 

– Microwave humming

– Vacuum cleaner 

The new study was led by Emma Grigg at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, and published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 

‘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,’ said Grigg.

‘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. 

‘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.’

For the study, the researchers conducted surveys of 386 dog owners on their dogs’ responses to household sounds, including behaviour and strength of the dog’s reactions, as well as owner attitudes toward their dog’s behaviors. 

The team also examined recordings of dogs reacting to common household noises, as well as human reactions, from 62 videos available on YouTube. 

Titles of the videos included ‘Dog scared of popcorn’, ‘Golden Retriever is afraid of the microwave’, and ‘My Dog cryin cuz da smoke detector went off’ (below). 

Numerous signs of canine fear and anxiety were reported by survey respondents and observed in the videos, in response to both daily, and irregular but ‘normal’, household noises. 

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.

Dog responses were stronger to ‘high frequency intermittent’ sounds (such as beeping) than to ‘low frequency continuous’ sounds (the drone of a vacuum cleaner), the study found.   

Loud noises, especially when unpredictable and when the dog is indoors (and therefore cannot control their exposure to the sound), can cause intense ‘physiological and behavioral’ fear reactions, the authors say. 

Generally, signs of anxiety in dogs include panting, pacing, drooling, barking, howling and other vocalisations. 

But the study authors found a huge range of dog responses, including jumping on owners, hiding, spinning, licking lips, retreating and even ‘freezing’.

Owners not only underestimated their dogs’ fear, but more people responded with amusement rather than concern over their dog’s welfare.

Concern for a pet dog was only expressed in 17.5 per cent of the videos, compared with amusement in 45.6 per cent of videos. 

The most commonly-observed owner reaction was ‘spectator’ – where they were not heard or seen interfering with the situation.

This is ‘perhaps not surprising’, the study authors say, as the dogs were ‘being deliberately filmed by owners presumably for sharing the dog’s behavior online’.  

Swedish experts investigated stress levels in two types of dogs – solitary hunting breeds and ancient dog breeds – and their owners. Pictured, a Norwegian elkhound – a type of solitary hunting breed

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, the authors also warn.

Minimising exposure to anxiety-inducing household sounds may be as simple as changing batteries more frequently in smoke detectors or removing a dog from a room where loud noises might occur, according to Grigg.  

‘Dogs use body language much more than vocalising and we need to be aware of that,’ she said. 

‘We feed them, house them, love them and we have a caretaker obligation to respond better to their anxiety.’  

Videos of dogs stressing out on perhaps the nosiest night of the year – Bonfire Night – seem to do the rounds online in the days following November 5.

Earlier this week it emerged that two dogs from separate UK households were literally scared to death by the racket last Friday. 

Dexter (pictured), 10, a Staffy Labrador cross, was found ‘laid flat on the floor’ in the downstairs bathroom after running scared from noisy fireworks during Bonfire Night

Dexter, a 10-year-old 10, a Staffy Labrador cross from Hemlington, North Yorkshire, was found dead after running scared from noisy fireworks. 

The dog died despite his owner’s attempts to perform CPR and to resuscitate him via mouth to mouth.

Meanwhile, a one-year-old Lhassa Apso in Northern Ireland, Ollie, died last week from a heart attack allegedly ’caused by fireworks’.

Vets reveal the subtle signs that your dog might be STRESSED – including licking their lips, pinning their ears back and giving you ‘whale eyes’ 

Subtle signs of stress that an owner can miss or misinterpret are excessive panting, pacing back and forth, licking lips (when not eating or drinking) and pinning its ears back

Animal charity Blue Cross has warned dog owners to be on the lookout for signs that their pup is stressed, which it says can lead to behavioural issues.  

Obvious signs a dog is stressed include a loss of appetite, aggression, having its tail between its legs or backing away from someone or something, Blue Cross says. 

Subtle signs of stress that are more easily missed include excessive panting, pacing back and forth, a dog licking its lips when not eating or drinking, and pinning its ears back. 

The UK charity is concerned that thousands of dogs could be sold or abandoned if the signs of stress are misinterpreted as a personality defect. 

Blue Cross also fears some dogs may be stressed and develop behavioural issues as routines start to change at home when the Covid 19 lockdown ends.

Read more: Vets reveal the subtle signs that your dog might be stressed 

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