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There are numerous factors that can influence a dog’s behaviour, however, a new study has found a relationship between fear of noises and underlying pain. This suggests that dogs showing signs of stress when faced with loud or sudden noises should be routinely assessed for pain by veterinarians – especially in older dogs.
Lopes Fagundes et al. (2018) compared two groups of dogs that had various sound sensitivities from cars, planes and gunshots to fireworks and thunderstorms; one group had already been diagnosed with underlying musculoskeletal pain whilst the other group were evaluated and classified as ‘pain-free’. Both groups of dogs were similar in age and neuter status, did not vary in breed substantially and were referred by veterinarians for noise phobia.
The researchers noted those dogs in pain had a later onset of noise reactivity – by around four years and exhibited a more generalised response to noises, as well as avoidance behaviours connected to situations where negative experiences with noise had occurred. These dogs were also less social towards other dogs. However, with pain treatment and behaviour modification the majority of the dogs in the pain group showed improved behaviours towards noise. Consequently, Lopes Fagundes et al. (op. cit.) concluded the startle response to loud noises likely aggravates pain: the resulting muscle tension or sudden movement elicited in response to the sounds may cause tenderness which is associated with noise.
Whilst data has shown the links between pain and the onset of behaviours such as aggression, these latest findings highlight the importance of pain in the development of fear-related behaviours; left untreated this can have a detrimental impact to the dog’s welfare.