November 9, 2015

Noise sensitivity in 17 dog breeds: Prevalence, breed risk and correlation with fear in other situations

The behavioral issue of noise sensitivity is when a dog reacts in a negative manner towards one or more specific, often loud sounds; this can be expressed through a wide variety of physical and emotional responses that show fear and/or anxiety. The specific noise that a dog may react to and the strength to which they feel or show their fear can vary widely from dog to dog.

There have been a wide variety of hypotheses and studies on correlations between noise sensitivity and various factors such as the dog’s breed, age, sex, whether the dog had been neutered or not, if the dog had experienced a traumatic event with a loud noise, and if the behavior was learned or reinforced by other dogs or owners. This specific study focused on determining if there was a correlation between noise sensitivity and dog breeds, with secondary smaller focuses on a potential correlation with age, sex, and whether the dog had been neutered or not

The study was performed as a web survey given to dog owners through 17 different breed clubs. Dog owners answered questions about the behavior of their living dogs as well as ones that were deceased. Four of the questions pertained to how the dog reacted to specific loud noises, and another three questions were about how and when fear presented in the dog in general situations. The owners responded to the questions on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being “no signs” of fear and 5 being “very strong signs” of fear. Any dog that had at least one score of a 4 or a 5 in any of the noise questions were considered to be a dog that was “fearful” of loud noises; if a dog did not score a 4 or a 5 in any of these questions they were considered to be “not fearful.”

There were large differences between the breeds in the amount of fear shown for various sounds. Overall, “almost 23% of the owners reported their dog to be fearful of noises” (157). Fireworks were the most common fear, then gunshots, and finally thunderstorms. The fear of heavy traffic was much less pronounced, but a difference between the breeds was still seen. Additionally, it was determined that non-hunting breeds were 1.4 times more likely to be fearful of gunshots than hunting breeds, and that dogs who were fearful for one loud noise often were fearful with other loud noises. This could be due to the fact that the dog may generalize all loud sounds as a stimulus to be frightened of, or that the dog may be generally anxious and would thus be fearful of all loud sounds.

Specifically for the Boxer breed, their recorded level of noise sensitivity was lower than most other breeds for all four of the noise questions; additionally, Boxers were always included in the group of breeds with low levels of noise sensitivity when comparing the group of breeds with low noise sensitivity to the group of breeds with high noise sensitivity.

 

Researchers believe that the reason behind why some dog breeds show more noise sensitivity than others is due to the fact that genes relating to fear and anxiety have may have collected more heavily in certain breeds during the selective breeding process that ensures breed purity.

Storengen, Linn Mari, and Lingaas, Frode (2015), Noise sensitivity in 17 dog breeds: Prevalence, breed risk and correlation with fear in other situations. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 171: 152–160.