Household Noises Might Increase Your Dog’s Anxiety

Golden retriever Cali wears a navy blue onesie
This surgical suit is similar to a “Thundershirt” or other close-fitting anti-anxiety garment for a dog

Many dog people are familiar with dogs who are sensitive to specific noises. Thunder and fireworks are common triggers, and some dogs are so phobic that they hurt themselves in their efforts to escape the noise, cause damage to walls, carpets, or furniture — or run away. (Lost dogs on July 4th are sadly common.)

But what most of us may not realize is that less extreme noises might be feeding our dogs’ anxiety as well. High-pitched, intermittent noises, such as the beeping of a smoke detector that needs a battery change or even the beeping of your microwave could be putting your dog on edge, according to a new study by Emma Grigg, of UC Davis (and Bergin University).

Many dogs fear vacuum cleaners; again it could be the sound. That might be why Cali, who had absolutely no fear of the vacuum I had when she was a puppy shies away from my current dog-hair-collecting tool as if she fears that it’s going to swallow her whole.

“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,” Grigg told Science Daily.

It’s bad enough that we humans don’t realize that our dogs are afraid of or anxious about common noises. Unfortunately, many owners actually find their dogs’ reactions amusing! We owe them more than that.

Grigg also said that the anxiety might be related to pain. Because dogs’ hearing is more sensitive than ours, very loud or high-frequency noises might actually hurt their ears. They can even experience a painful reaction to sounds that are outside our range of hearing: When I was teaching at Bergin U many years ago, we (very briefly) set up ultrasonic devices meant to repel mice. We never found out whether they worked on the mice because the dogs immediately started showing signs of distress and anxiety.

Cover of Doggie Language bookIf your dog seems anxious, and you haven’t been able to figure out why or how to help, a noise might be the cause. Identifying the cause might be a challenge, but closely watching your dog’s body language and trying to minimize exposure to any loud or high-pitched noises can help.

If you need a refresher on stress signals, revisit Please Back Off. Or, yep, I am going to recommend it again: Take a look at Doggie Language.

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