It may seem funny when your dog barks at the vacuum cleaner, but it may not be so fun for your pet. In a recently released study by researchers at UC Davis, they found that owners may not recognize the stress caused by household noises. Some noises are particularly aggravating, but owners often confuse reactions with being playful. By informing your clients, they can better deal with these stress-related issues, making their home more welcoming to their pets.
In an article titled “Stress-Related Behaviors in Companion Dogs Exposed to Common Household Noises, and Owners' Interpretations of Their Dogs' Behaviors,” researchers at University of California, Davis surveyed dog owners about their dogs' reactions to different noises. In the past, most research has focused on infrequent sounds, like thunder, gun shots and fireworks. However, in this study, the focus was on common, frequent household noises.
When it comes to the degree of reactions, one thing was clear from the results. Dogs were more likely to react to high frequency intermittent sounds than low frequency sounds. Likewise, their reactions were stronger towards high frequency sounds. For example, the chirp of a low battery warning from a smoke detector is more stressful than the hum of a microwave. Why? Dogs have heightened sensitivity to sounds between 1,000 to 8,000 Hz. A smoke alarm is designed to make noise with a loudness of 75 dBA at the head of someone lying in bed. That’s the same loudness as a vacuum cleaner. Move closer to the fire alarm, and the sound is much louder. Smoke alarm sirens are usually 3,000 Hz, which means it seems even louder to canine ears than our own.
Unfortunately, pet discomfort doesn’t translate into action from owners. Instead, they often find their pet’s reactions to be funny, not realizing the stress they’re putting their dogs under. Researcher Emma Grigg says this is largely because they can’t interpret their dogs’ body language. Obvious signs, like trembling, retreating or cringing are easy to interpret. However, more subtle cues are missed. These include actions like panting, turning away, retreating or licking lips.
The dog owner survey listed 24 possible stress responses from their dog when exposed to household noises. These were the most common responses reported:
Barking – Reported by 50% of owners, present in 29% of reactions
Retreating – Reported by 22.5% of owners, present in 13% of reactions
Pacing – Reported by 16.3% of owners, present in 9.5% of reactions
When Funny Videos Aren’t So Funny
The study also looked at online videos featuring dogs reacting to household objects. This included Youtube videos and video compilations. As with the owner surveys, they found the vast majority of clips were reactions to high frequency sounds. 82.5% were identifiable as high frequency sounds, about 10% were low frequency sounds, and the sounds in other videos couldn’t be determined.
Tail wagging, lip licking and panting were the most common stress responses. However, the researchers noted there were twice as many incidents of dogs jumping on owners in response to low frequency sound than high frequency sound.
Naturally, these clips don’t represent normal behavior. After all, people aren’t likely to record their pet and post the video online, unless that pet’s reaction is extreme. However, owners who watch these videos may be encouraged to try getting these reactions from their dogs.
We saw something similar a few years ago with cat and cucumber reaction videos. By placing a cucumber next to a cat while it’s looking away, it will briefly misinterpret the vegetable as a predator and leap into the air. The trend died down when people realized they probably shouldn’t jump scare their pets.
What Should I Do to Help My Clients Address Sound Issues?
Inform owners about body language that indicates stress, and make suggestions on ways to make their home a quieter place for their dog. In particular, care should be taken to keep fire alarm batteries fresh, so the low battery warning doesn’t distress their pet.
Do I Need to Make Changes to My Clinic?
Probably not. The study also looked at meta research, comparing these findings to related studies. They found that background isn’t a major factor in pet anxiety at a veterinary clinic. Other stimuli, like being in a new environment and around new people, were far more likely to cause reactions. In other words, you’re better off focusing your efforts on ways to make dogs more comfortable around staff, owners and other animals.
Keep Your Clients in the Loop
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