Bristol University experts say dog owners should do more to ease animals' fear of noises
Researchers at Bristol University have gained new insight into owners understanding of their dogs fear of loud noises, and have called for more people to seek professional help for their cowering canines.
It is hoped that the research could potentially ease the burden of pet owners for whom the fireworks of Guy Fawkes Night and New Year’s Eve has become an annual trial.
The research by academics from the university’s School of Veterinary Sciences, and funded by the RSPCA, has published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.
The study provides an insight into dogs’ fear of noises, and could improve understanding of behavioural signs of fear or anxiety.
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In the study two approaches were taken to investigate the occurrence of these behaviours: a postal survey of dog owners to investigate general demographic factors and a structured interview of owners to gather more detailed information.
Almost half of the owners who were interviewed reported that their dog showed at least one behavioural sign typical of fear when exposed to noises such as fireworks, thunder and gunshots, even though only a quarter had reported their dog as “fearful of noises”.
A university spokesman said: “This suggests that while they are aware of their pet’s behavioural response when exposed to a loud noise, owners do not necessarily recognise this as being indicative of fear or anxiety. This has relevance both for awareness of compromised welfare, and the methodology for surveying such behaviour.”
The most commonly reported behavioural signs were barking, trembling/shaking, hiding and seeking comfort from owners. It is thought trembling and shaking are more often reported by owners than other behaviours because they are similar to fearful behaviours in humans.
The research found that 12 breeds were less likely to show fear responses to noises than cross-breeds, including popular gundog breeds such as the Labrador, Cocker Spaniel and Springer Spaniel.
Dr Rachel Casey, European specialist in veterinary behavioural medicine and senior lecturer in companion animal behaviour and welfare at Bristol University, said: “Our results suggest that the characteristics of dogs, their 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.”
Fewer than a third of owners currently seek professional advice about treatment for their pet’s fear. The researchers recommend there is a need for veterinary surgeons to increase awareness among the general dog owning public that treatment is both available and effective in dealing with fears of loud noises, and to direct them towards appropriate sources of help.
Information for vets and dog owners on finding an expert to help treat behaviour problems including fear of noises can be found at www.rspca.org.uk/findabehaviourist