Most of the time conversations about how dogs respond to noises focus on big, scary, sudden sounds like thunder, fireworks, and gunfire. A paper published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in November 2021 looks at how common household noises affect dogs and how people often (mis)interpret dogs showing signs of fear and anxiety. For context, other studies reported the prevalence of noise sensitivities in dogs as high as 50%, so it's an important topic. I recommend you read the whole paper yourself. However, here are the highlights and headlines.
I might still do a video about this paper when I have time, but for now, here are the main points.
- "Sounds that are common in households can elicit fear, anxiety, or stress responses in companion dogs."
- "Owners can misinterpret or respond negatively to expressions of fear, anxiety, or stress in their companion dog if the stressor is considered 'common.'"
Recap of Methods
- Surveyed 386 dog owners
- 72 breeds represented (mostly medium sized adults, 59.2% noted as the only dog in the home)
- 50% mixed breed (with sharp drop after that)
- 5.8% Labrador retrievers
- 2.9% each - American pit bull terrier, golden retrievers, Australian shepherds
- Reviewed and scored 62 videos on 24 behavioral signs of stress in dogs (individual videos and compilations, which mostly featured dogs stressing about vacuum cleaners)
- Sounds categorized as "high frequency intermittent" (like smoke alarm beeping or chirping) or "low frequency continuous" (running vacuum)
The paper's authors say, "While the videos cannot be used to calculate actual prevalence of these issues, our data support that some owners are underestimating fearfulness in their dogs in response to household noises, and responding inappropriately to dogs' expressions of fear and anxiety."
The paper's authors say that people need better knowledge of canine body language to "safeguard dogs' welfare and minimize development of anxiety-related behavior problems."
Want to learn more? I'm a fan of illustrations of dog body language and meanings by Lili Chin, including those in Doggie Language book.
Headlines: Common Household Noises Affect Dogs
Most survey respondents (66.8%) reported that their dogs were NOT fearful.
However, when asked about fear of loud noises (fireworks, thunder, gunfire, etc.), close to half said yes.
Dogs responses to common household noises were "significantly stronger" to high frequency intermittent sounds than to low frequency continuous ones.
Individual videos reviewed featured people:
- Behaving as spectators (49.1%)
- Showing amusement (45.6%)
- Trying to "analyze or understand the dog's behavior" (26.3%)
- Deliberately antagonizing the dog to cause the desired reaction (22.8%)
"Concern for the dog was only expressed in 17.5% of the videos."
Compilation videos reviewed featured people:
- Behaving as spectators (46.9%)
- Showing amusement (21.3%)
- Deliberately antagonizing the dog to cause the desired reaction (20.2%)
"Concern for the dog was not expressed / observed in any of the compilation clips."
Why Noise Matters
Think of noise like second-hand smoke. Not good. Fear and anxiety add stress to dogs' lives that can affect their physical health, emotional welfare, and even how long they live. It also results in behaviors that can be a real problem in daily life and how they interact with other dogs, their families, and other people. All this may result in things like:
- Developing behavioral or physiological problems
- Damaging the human-animal bond via unwanted behaviors that result from fears / phobias / anxiety
- Decreasing commitment to dog care
- Increasing risk of relinquishment or euthanasia
What You Can Do - Me Talking Here
- Don't terrorize dogs for the sake of video for social media. Seriously. Stop it.
- 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 truly fearful dog, I like to think I recognize when even seemingly minor things upset dogs. That's why in addition to typical puppy socialization efforts I do with our various foster puppies, I focus on sounds too so that they feel safe in the presence of normal household sounds and activities.
For example, as a puppy, Mr. Stix initially seemed scared of microwave popcorn popping. I'd never really thought about it, but it makes sense. It probably sounded sharp and sudden, like firecrackers or gunfire. We addressed his concerns by pairing the noise with food. Once he figured out that the sound means popcorn is coming, that helped a lot. He likes popcorn.
And, yet, I vividly remember taking this photo when he was a puppy. One of the smoke alarms kept chirping 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 bought a new microwave that beeps a crap-ton more than our old one. Every button pushed beeps, and worst of all, it beeps like 5 times when it's done, which is a lot longer than our old microwave.
Our eldest, Clover, -- who hates things that beep -- fell apart. Poor puppy-gal. So, anytime I used the new microwave, I handed out cheese flavored crackers to all 3 dogs -- at increasingly smaller distances from the microwave. The community aspect helped I think. In just a few days, everyone came running for cheese crackers anytime they heard the microwave kick on. I kept doing that for maybe 2-3 weeks, and it worked. No more cowering, cringing, and hiding from Clover when the microwave beeps now.
The other thing I realized I didn't teach my dogs when there were puppies is cheering at the TV during sports events and such. So, with foster puppies, I do occasionally pop up and clap and express a higher level of excitement and make a little party out of it for the puppies too -- just in case they later get adopted by big sports fans.
In addition to all the electronic things that beep on their own or during power blips, other common household noises that affect dogs include things like:
- Food processors
- Electric mixers
- Whistling tea kettles
- Hissing coffee makers
- Lawn care equipment
- Noisy cars or motorcycles
- Kids playing / yelling / screaming