Constant Din Of Barking Causes Stress, Behavior Changes In Dogs In
28 Jul 2006
If your neighbor's barking dog drives you crazy, pity the employees
of the nation's animal shelters, where the noise produced by howling,
barking and yapping dogs often exceeds that produced by a jackhammer.
And pity the poor dogs.
"While employees may wear hearing protectors, dogs don't have that
option," said Crista Coppola, an adjunct instructor in the department of
veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. "Excessive noise in shelters can physically stress dogs
and lead to behavioral, physiological and anatomical responses."
In a paper published in the spring issue of the Journal of Applied
Animal Welfare Science, Coppola and co-authors R. Mark Enns and
Temple Grandin, both at Colorado State University, describe noise
measurements made at an animal shelter built in 1999.
"Noise levels regularly exceeded the measuring capacity of our noise
dosimeter, which was 118.9 decibels," said Coppola, who is also a
behavior fellow at the Midwest office of the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Urbana. "These levels were higher
than that produced by a jackhammer (110 decibels). The Occupational
Safety and Health Administration recommends hearing protection be worn at
noise levels above 90 decibels."
A common noise problem in shelters occurs when dogs are placed in
gated kennels along the perimeter of a large room. The dogs receive
negative stimulation when they see other dogs, especially when they see
other dogs receiving attention.
"Dogs are a very social species," Coppola said. "They want to be
around other dogs. When they see other dogs, but can't get to them, you
hear a lot of frustration barking back and forth."
A better design places dogs in individual rooms surrounding a common
play area, Coppola said. Each room has two doors: One leads into the play
area and the other - in the opposite wall - is used by shelter staff to
access the room for adoption visits.
"Two or more dogs could be admitted to the play area at a time,"
Coppola said. "This is a wonderful way to exercise the dogs and let them
receive the social interaction they want and need."
Cohabitation is another way to reduce both noise and stress in dogs,
Coppola said. Dogs housed in social groups vocalize less, sleep more and
show fewer abnormal behaviors. Cohabitation has worked well in Germany
and Japan, but has been slow to catch on in the U.S.
Retrofitting shelters can be costly, but even in new construction,
noise-abatement designs are often overlooked. Fortunately, in
addition to physical surroundings, there are other ways to reduce stress
In a separate study, published in the spring issue of the journal
Physiology and Behavior, Coppola, Enns and Grandin examined the
effect of human contact on stress response of shelter dogs.
In the study, dogs were treated to scheduled human contact, which
included grooming, petting and playing, for an average of 45 minutes on
their second day in the shelter. A control group did not received
scheduled human contact.
To objectively compare stress levels, the researchers measured the
amount of salivary cortisol, a hormone recognized as a major
indicator of stress response. Dogs that engaged in human contact had much
lower cortisol levels on day three than dogs that did not engage in human
"Day three is usually the most stressful," Coppola said. "The dogs
have not yet begun to acclimate, and have reached their tolerance level
of responding to unpredictable surroundings."
Extra human contact was influential in reducing the stressful
effects of shelter housing, Coppola said. "Keeping dogs behaviorally
healthy helps keep them physically healthy. And healthy, unstressed dogs
have a tendency to be more calm and relaxed."
Excessive noise not only affects shelter animals and employees, it
can affect potential adopters, as well.
"Visitors are sometimes driven off by excessive noise," Coppola
said. "As we work to reduce that noise, we ask potential adopters to
please bear it for the amount of time necessary to find an
appropriate dog. Your new pet will thank you."
Funding was provided by Grandin Livestock Inc. and the Eugene V. and
Clare E. Thaw Charitable Trust.
Contact: James E. Kloeppel
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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