We have a dog that is terrified of loud noises. If we’re in the yard and she hears gun shots or fireworks off in the distance she’ll run for the house faster than you can blink. If there is a thunderstorm in our area she hides under the bed and shakes uncontrollably. We’ve tried calming products, and some of them do help, but even if I drop a pan on the floor and it makes a loud crash she’ll take off for the bedroom.
New research on the subject was performed by Linn Mari Storengen and Frode Lingaas from Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Biosciences at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo, Norway. The research looked deeper into the cause of this reaction. It is not uncommon for canines to be scared of loud noises, and researchers at the institute wanted to find out why.
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The question they really wanted an answer to was why some dogs react to the noise while others do not. I’d like to know the answer as well, since we have one dog that panics and one dog that doesn’t seem to be affected by loud noises at all.
The Norwegian study included observing the behavior of 5,257 dogs from 17 different breeds. Owners were required to fill out an online survey that asked them to rate their dog’s sensitivity to noise from four different factors: thunderstorms, heavy traffic, fireworks, and loud noises (banging sounds/gunshots). For each of the four noises, owners needed to rate the severity of their dog’s response on a fear scale from 1 to 5. A 1 rating meant there was no reaction and a 5 meant the dog showed very strong signs of anxiety.
Of the dogs surveyed, 23 percent scored a 5 for at least one of the four noises and was thereby deemed noise sensitive. But what causes the anxiety? It seems that physiological variables played a bigger factor over psychological. In addition to pinpointing thunder and fireworks as evoking the strongest reaction from anxious dogs, age also played a factor.
Older dogs were more anxious, and females were 30 percent more sensitive to noise than males. This could be because of the genetic differences in males and females, but it could also be hormonal. Another link that may suggest a hormonal factor is that neutered animals were 72 percent more likely to cower in fear than un-neutered.
Breed was also proven to play a role in a dog’s response to loud noises. Norwegian Buhunds, Shiba Inus, Irish Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Lagotta Romagnolo were bothered more than other breeds. The least bothered by banging and crashing were Great Danes, Boxers, Pointers, and Chinese Crested dogs. In spite of the fact that the study leaned more towards nature than nurture, it didn’t rule out the fact that each dog’s personal history could play a part in their reaction as well.
The results of the investigation also confirm that a dog that is afraid of loud noises is three times more likely to suffer from separation anxiety. Dogs that are fearful of loud noises are also 18 times more likely to show signs of being afraid in novel situations, and they are four times more likely to take longer to calm down after a stressful situation.
All of these factors suggest that noise sensitivity may be an indicator of an underlying physiological mechanism that causes dogs to be more reactive to potentially stressful situations in their environment. If this is true, it would mean that researchers may be able to use the noise sensitivity of dogs to measure the likelihood that they would have stressful responses to other situations. In layman’s terms this study suggests that if your dog is sensitive to noise it may actually be the result of his heredity and physiology, not because of past traumatic life events.