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Study reveals household sounds could be more stressful for your dog than you think

New study shows smoke detectors and vacuums are just as upsetting as fireworks for dogs.

Sirens, thunderstorms, and fireworks. The universal sounds that every dog wishes would go away forever.

In fact, OMD! recently reported how many Vancouver dog owners watched their pets grow anxious with the Halloween fireworks, despite a city-wide ban.

But a new study out of the University of California’s Davis School of Veterinary Medicine finds that some household items can be just as stressful as fireworks for dogs.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fear

Smoke alarms come up often in the study. Because dogs are much more sensitive to high frequency noises, something like the battery-warning beeping on a smoke detector can be extremely triggering for a dog. Add to that, the beeping is intermittent, which adds to the stress, as opposed to say, a clothes dryer, which has a continuous, low frequency sound.

The significance is this. Fireworks and thunderstorms are obvious stressors. Pet parents tend to comfort their dogs during these times - all the while not knowing that a high-pitched household beep is equally as upsetting for the dog.

Studying Stress

The researchers surveyed 386 dog owners about their pets’ responses to different household items. The study also took a deep dive into dozens of online videos to note reactions (there are a lot of YouTube clips of dogs barking and cowering at appliances).

Vacuums, microwaves, hair dryers - anything in the house can cause fear in a dog. And every dog is different. But the higher the frequency and the more random the noise is, the more the dog tends to show signs of anxiety.

Another interesting factor is that the dog doesn’t have anywhere far to go when inside. We think of being indoors as safe, but if a noise is resonating throughout the house and the dog has nowhere to go, fear can rise even higher.

“Many companion dogs are primarily contained within human households,” the study claims. “And are unable in many cases to control their own level of exposure to these sounds. This issue, therefore, may represent a significant welfare concern for affected dogs.”

The Takeaway

The study seems to be about dog owners as much as it is about dogs. The researchers found that many owners reacted to their dogs’ stress with amusement. After all, when a dog barks at a vacuum, it’s cute, right? The study says nope.. Dogs’ reactions to household noises aren’t funny, they’re quite fearful.

“If these dogs are experiencing fear in response to regularly-occurring household stimuli,” the study offers, “they may as a result be experiencing reduced welfare, and be at risk for the development of stress-related behavioural or physiological problems.”

The researchers conclude that owners should read their dogs’ body language more indoors. Watch for signs of lip-licking, panting, pinned-back ears, and stiffening of the body. These subtle signals could be telling you something in the house is just as stressful as a firework going off.

Also be sure to regularly replace batteries on items like smoke detectors, and remove dogs from rooms with loud noises. What might seem minor to us could be a major fear factor for a dog.


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