Digital tech causing pet stress? Common household noises may be giving your dog anxiety

DAVIS, Calif. — Loud, distressing noises are a common stressor for pets. For dog owners, many have unfortunately seen their companion frightened and even run away during a thunderstorm or fireworks display. Now, a new study finds big, crashing noises aren’t the only sounds that can stress out a pup — the everyday beeps and rings in your home can too.

Researchers from the University of California-Davis have discovered that many common items in the typical household can also trigger anxiety in a dog. Moreover, their study finds pet owners often miss the signs that their pet is nervous, anxious, or experiencing severe stress.

Study authors find common noises coming from a vacuum, a smoke detector, or even a microwave can trigger a dog’s anxiety. Specifically, high-frequency, intermittent noises — like loud beeps and chimes coming from a smoke detector — are more likely to cause stress for a dog than a 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,” says lead author Emma Grigg, a research associate and lecturer at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, in a university release.

Know the signs of anxiety

Researchers say one of the keys to helping dogs is knowing what to look for when they’re feeling anxious. Common signs of anxiety include cringing, trembling, or running away. However, the team finds there are more subtle behaviors dogs can display when noises frighten them.

Stressed out dogs can pant, lick their lips, turn their head away from the noise, or stiffen their body. In some cases, a dog can turn their ears back or drop their head below their shoulders.

Unfortunately, many pet owners are not only missing these signs, they’re completely misreading them too. The team surveyed 386 dog owners about their pet’s responses to normal household sounds. They also examined 62 video recordings of human and dog behavior in reaction to common sounds.

Grigg’s team found that pet owners often underestimated their dog’s level of fear to certain sounds. Additionally, the majority of owners misinterpreted their dog’s actions as playfulness and responded with amusement — rather than concern.

“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 explains. “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.”

How can you keep your dog calm?

Since dogs hear a range of sound frequencies people can’t, researchers warn that even common sounds pet owners take for granted can be painful to their pup. To help dogs avoid stress, the team recommends pet owners take steps like changing out batteries in items like smoke detectors more often. Dog owners should also remove their pet from a room where they know loud noises often occur.

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

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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