Fear responses to noises in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear related behaviour

Emily-Jayne Blackwell, John W S Bradshaw, Rachel A Casey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

140 Citations (Scopus)


Behavioural signs of fear or anxiety on exposure to noises in owned domestic dogs have been suggested in clinical studies to be common and a significant welfare concern. In this study two approaches were taken to investigate the occurrence of, and risk factors for, these behaviours: a postal survey of dog owners to investigate general demographic factors (n=3897), and a structured interview of a sub-set of owners to gather more detailed information (n=383). Almost half of owners in the structured interview reported that their dog showed at least one behavioural sign typical of fear when exposed to noises, even though only a quarter had reported their dog as ‘fearful’ in the general survey. This difference indicates that even where owners recognise behavioural responses to noises, they may not interpret these as associated with altered subjective state in their dog. The difference in reported prevalence between the studies highlights the importance of methodological approach in owner questionnaire studies investigating behavioural signs.

Owners most commonly reported fearful responses to fireworks in their dogs. Response to fireworks, gunshots and thunder frequently co-occurred, suggesting that responses to one loud noise are likely to generalise to others. However, responses to these types of noise did not commonly co-occur with separation related behaviour or behaviours indicative of fear or anxiety in other contexts. In contrast, responses to other, less salient, noises, such as traffic and TV noises did co-occur with other signs of fear or anxiety. Fear responses to less salient noises may therefore reflect fearful personality characteristics, while those to very salient noises, such as gunshots and fireworks, may reflect specific exposure and experience. General risk factors for owner-reported fear of noises in the combined postal and interviewed populations included breed, with twelve breeds or breed types having a reduced risk compared to cross breeds; age, where risk increased with age; and origin, where dogs living with the owner who bred them had a reduced risk as compared to dogs purchased from breeder by a second owner. For the interviewed subset only, risk factors for specific fears included time of acquisition, and early exposure to particular noises. The results suggest that characteristics of dogs, early environment, and exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises. Interestingly, less than a third of owners sought professional advice about treatment for their pet's response to noises.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-25
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Noise phobia; fear; behavioural therapy; dog behaviour; socialisation


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