Most of the time, conversations about how dogs react to noises focus on big, sudden, scary sounds like thunder, fireworks, and gunshots. A article published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in November 2021 looked how common household noises affect dogs and how people often (mis)interpret dogs showing signs of fear and anxiety. For context, other studies have reported the prevalence of noise sensitivities in dogs as high as 50%, so this is an important topic. I recommend that you read the whole paper yourself. However, here are the highlights and headlines.
I may still do a video on this paper when I have time, but for now here are the main points.
- “Common household sounds can elicit fear, anxiety or stress responses in pet dogs.”
- “Owners may misinterpret or react negatively to expressions of fear, anxiety, or stress in their pet dog if the stressor is considered ‘common’.”
Summary of methods
- 386 dog owners interviewed
- 72 breeds represented (mostly medium-sized adults, 59.2% rated as the only dog in the house)
- 50% mixed race (with a steep decline thereafter)
- 5.8% Labrador retrievers
- 2.9% each – American Pit Bull Terrier, Golden Retrievers, Australian Shepherds
- Review and rating of 62 videos on 24 behavioral signs of stress in dogs (individual videos and compilations, which mainly featured dogs stressed by vacuum cleaners)
- Sounds categorized as “high frequency intermittent” (like a smoke alarm beeping or chirping) or “low frequency continuous” (vacuum cleaner running)
The authors of the article state: “Although videos cannot be used to calculate the true prevalence of these problems, our data confirms that some owners underestimate their dogs’ fear in response to household noises and react in a inappropriate to dog expressions of fear and anxiety.”
The authors of the article claim that people need better knowledge of canine body language to “maintain dogs’ well-being and minimize the development of anxiety-related behavioral problems”.
You want to know more ? I’m a fan of Lili Chin’s illustrations of canine body language and meanings, including those of dog language book.
Titles: Common Household Noises Affect Dogs
Most survey respondents (66.8%) said their dogs were NOT scared.
However, when asked about fear of loud noises (fireworks, thunder, gunshots, etc.), nearly half said yes.
The dogs’ responses to common household noises were “significantly stronger” to intermittent high-frequency sounds than to continuous low-frequency sounds.
The individual videos reviewed featured people:
- Behave as spectators (49.1%)
- Have fun (45.6%)
- Trying to “analyze or understand the behavior of the dog” (26.3%)
- Deliberately antagonizing the dog to elicit the desired reaction (22.8%)
“Concern for the dog was only expressed in 17.5% of the videos.”
Compilation videos reviewed featured people:
- Behave as spectators (46.9%)
- Have fun (21.3%)
- Deliberately antagonizing the dog to elicit the desired reaction (20.2%)
“Concern for the dog was not expressed/observed in any of the compilation clips.”
Why noise is important
Think of noise as second-hand smoke. Not good. Fear and anxiety add stress to dogs’ lives, which can affect their physical health, emotional well-being, and even their lifespan. It also translates into behaviors that can be a real problem in daily life and how they interact with other dogs, their families, and other people. All of this can lead to things like:
- Developing behavioral or physiological problems
- Damage the human-animal bond via unwanted behaviors resulting from fears/phobias/anxiety
- Decreased commitment to dog care
- Increased risk of abandonment or euthanasia
What you can do – I speak here
- Don’t terrorize dogs for fun video for social media. Seriously. Stop that.
- When you see these videos pop up, point out that these videos are NOT funny and instead reveal a dog’s distress.
- Recognize and address how common household noises affect dogs in your own home. See my examples below.
Examples of how common household noises affect dogs
Having lived for 9 years with our original canine heroine, Lilly, who was a really fearful dog, I like to think that I still recognize seemingly minor things bother dogs. That’s why, in addition to the typical puppy socialization efforts I do with our various foster puppies, I also focus on sounds so that they feel safe around normal household sounds and activities.
For example, as a puppy, Mr. Stix initially seemed afraid of microwave popcorn. I had never really thought about it, but it makes sense. It probably sounded sharp and sudden, like firecrackers or gunshots. We responded to his concerns by associating noise with food. Once he figured out the sound meant popcorn was coming, that helped a lot. He likes popcorn.
And yet, I vividly remember taking this picture when he was a puppy. A die smoke alarms sounded intermittently with a low battery alert, and Mr. Stix slept through it. The girls were losing their minds, but he didn’t react at all.
Recently we purchased a new microwave that beeps a shit more than our old one. Every button pressed beeps, and worst of all, it beeps like 5 times when it’s done, which is much longer than our old microwave.
Our eldest, Clover, – who hates things that sound – collapsed. Poor granddaughter. So every time I used the new microwave, I would hand out cheese crackers to all 3 dogs – at increasingly smaller distances from the microwave. The community aspect helped, I think. Within days, everyone came for cheese crackers every time they heard the microwave come on. I kept doing this for maybe 2-3 weeks, and it worked. No more cowering, cowering and hiding from Clover when the microwave beeps now.
The other thing that I realized I didn’t teach my dogs when there were puppies was cheering on television at sporting events and other such things. So with the foster puppies I sometimes barge in and clap and express a higher level of excitement and also make it a little party for the puppies – just in case they are later adopted by others. big sports fans.
Along with all the electronics that beep on their own or during power outages, other common household noises that affect dogs include things like:
- food processors
- Electric mixers
- Whistling tea kettles
- Whistling coffee makers
- Lawn care equipment
- Noisy cars or motorcycles
- Children playing / shouting / screaming