Is your dog afraid of some sounds? As many as 50% of dogs suffer from some kind of sound sensitivity. It may be the volume (loudness), the frequency (pitch), and/or the suddenness (abrupt) of the sounds (Sherman and Mills, 2008). Behavioral responses to the fear of noises include licking lips, panting, salivating, sweat paw pads, whining, barking, pacing, cowering/lowered body posture, shaking/trembling, barking, escape attempts/retreating, hiding, seeking out familiar people, not willing to interact, empty anal sacs, destruction, and self-injury.
Behaviors can vary and worsen from mild to severe, and can begin even before the sound is heard. Predictor cues of a feared sound can trigger the behaviors and anxiety. Fear (emotional response) is observable in cowering body posture and avoidance behaviors. Anxiety (fear when the great is not present) can present as a dog licking their lips repeatedly, panting, whining, and/or pacing (inability to settle), and a phobia (disproportionate response: putting themselves in danger to avoid the fear) reflected in uncontrollable irrational behaviors such as destruction and self-injury. Low level anxiety is acceptable only if it dissipates quickly.
Sudden loud noises are common triggers of noise aversion behaviors (Landsberg et al., 2003). Most people can recognize their dogs’s fear response during dramatic infrequent sounds such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or even gunshots. Dogs also show fear to house hold items - which often goes undetected or misinterpreted (Grigg et al., 2021). Most triggering are high frequency intermittent sounds such as smoke detector beeps (@~ 3000 Hz, 75 dB) and ultrasonic (above human audible threshold) pest repellants than low frequency continuous sounds such as vacuum cleaners. One client noted her dog’s early fear response (cower, hide) to the Furbo dog camera (which beeps). A dog’s hearing at high frequencies (1,000–8,000 Hz) is more sensitive than humans, not to mention the amplification by the pinna, making these sounds painfully loud.
Some types of physical pain have also been associated with the onset and development of noise aversion in dogs (Fangundes, 2018). Characteristic of an extensive generalization of fear responses to the wider environment, rather than being associated with a localized context or location. This may offer some insight to one client’s dog whose intermittent sound aversion to trucks is associated with a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect.
A previous traumatic experience associated with loud noises and a lack of exposure to engines (Iimura, 2006) as well as early (<5 months) spay/neuter have shown to be risk factors of fear of noises. Some medications have shown to be effective at reducing noise aversion when used as an adjunct to a behavioral therapy plan. If you detect your dog is afraid of some sounds it is best to consult an accredited animal behaviorist.
Fagundes, Hewison, McPeake, Zulch, and Mills (February, 2018). Noise sensitivities in dogs: An exploration of signs in dogs with and without musculoskeletal pain using qualitative content anaylsis. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00017.
Grigg, Chou, Parker, Gatesy-Davis, Clarkson and Hart (2021). Stress-Related Behaviors in Companion Dogs Exposed to Common Household Noises, and Owners' Interpretations of Their Dogs' Behaviors. Animal Behavior and Welfare, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2021.760845
Iimura K. (2006). The Nature of Noise Fear in Domestic Dogs. Lincoln: University of Lincoln.
Landsberg, Hunthausen, and Ackerman (2003). Fears and phobias. In: Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Cat and Dog. New York, NY: Saunders, p.227-268.
Sherman, Mills (2008). Canine anxieties and phobias: an update on separation anxiety and noise aversions. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 38:1081–106. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2008.04.012