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.

Thunderboy!


Poor Ziggy. Summer in Kansas is a never-ending cycle of thunderstorms and frenetic lawn-mowing. To make matters worse, his neighbors seem to tag-team each other. No sooner does one mower stop its terrifying buzz than another starts up. When all the lawns are neatly groomed … the thunder clouds roll in.

Ziggy cannot click his heels together, murmur “there’s no place like home,” and wind up back in thundercloud-free Southern California, where he grew up. He wouldn’t even need to worry about lawnmowers there; lawns are practically illegal in California these days. There’s no place like home indeed.

So what’s a poor thunder- and mower-phobic dog to do?

Rescue Remedy did not live up to its name; hiding under the sofa failed to quell his fears, and even the trusty closet let him down, seeing as it has an external wall. His mom’s planning to turn his kennel into a man-cave in the hall, the only place without windows or outside walls, but meanwhile, well, it’s raining. Again. And rain means thunder. When the rain stops, the neighbors fire up their mowers. Again. The cycle continues.

In Ziggy’s case, the ThunderShirt™ does the trick. Donning his trusty gray garment, Ziggy, a.k.a. Thunderboy®, acquires the superpower he needs to survive the back-to-back threats of local lawnmowers and ubiquitous thunderstorms.

Ziggy’s hardly alone in his quandary. And thunder and lawnmowers are not the only anxiety triggers of summer. The suggestions here can help dogs deal with Fourth of July fireworks as well.

WrapNot all dogs are lucky enough to gain superpowers by putting on a ThunderShirt. Other forms of wraps work for some anxious dogs — Jana favors hot pink elastic bandages, for example, when her nerves are on edge. Some dogs opt for a ThunderCap™, but Ziggy prefers to confront his fears with eyes wide open.

Some dogs just need a cuddle. Or a lot of cuddles. In the bed with you. Or on top of you. Others dogs are happier in their own secure fortresses — under or behind furniture or in a secure crate. Closed-sided crates or wire crates draped with towels or blankets work best. Pheromone sprays, collars, and plug-in diffusers work for some anxious dogs, while others can be distracted by music (or TV, for the couch potatoes) or games. A food toy (who doesn’t feel better with a nosh at hand — er, paw?), such as a stuffed Kong, inside the crate could work wonders for your pup’s nerves, if not his waistline.

A warning — dogs with extreme noise phobias might bolt during especially loud thunderstorms or fireworks. Make sure your dog is secured inside your home; a dog who escapes could cover a large distance trying to outrun his fear.

For many dogs, the issues is not the noise, it’s the air pressure and other changes they can feel when a thunderstorm is approaching. Some dogs’ anxiety can kick into high gear well before the first raindrops fall or thunder rumbles. If there’s no escape and no distracting him, medication might be necessary. In extreme cases, a Valium can pacify your perturbed pooch.

If even that fails? Dip into his Valium yourself … one little tablet (or a nice glass of Cabernet) and those anxieties will soon slide into the background.