Use of behavioural and physiological responses for scoring sound sensitivity in dogs

PLoS One. 2018 Aug 1;13(8):e0200618. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200618. eCollection 2018.


Sound sensitive dogs have exaggerated responses to sound stimuli that can negatively impact the welfare of the dog. Behavioural reactions combined with the response to sound involve a marked autonomic imbalance towards sympathetic predominance and release of cortisol. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate, in the laboratory, the cardiac autonomic modulation using heart rate variability (HRV) analysis, serum cortisol levels and behavioural parameters in response to sounds of fireworks in dogs with a history of sensitivity to fireworks. Based on these data, and combining qualitative measures and categorical measures, we propose one short and one full index of sound sensitivity in dogs. Six privately owned dogs with no history and another twelve dogs with a history of sound sensitivity to fireworks were used. The sound stimulus consisted of a standardised recording of fireworks (180-seconds long) with a peak intensity of 103-104 dB. The cardiac intervals were recorded using a frequency meter (Polar® RS800CX model) to evaluate the HRV, and the acquired data were processed using CardioSeries 2.4.1 software. Twenty-one behavioural parameters were analysed quantitatively by time, frequency or categorically by scores and were grouped in behavioural categories of arousal, fear, relaxation and "other". Sound sensitive dogs had exacerbated autonomic responses to the sound stimulus in the laboratory compared to non-sensitive dogs, with higher LF/HF ratios suggesting autonomic imbalance towards sympathetic predominance, but the cortisol levels were similar between the sensitive and non-sensitive dogs. Sound sensitive dogs showed pronounced responses for the parameters: alert and attention, search sound, startle, trembling, hiding, run away and less intense responses for the parameters rest and wink/sleep. Furthermore, the behavioural categories of arousal, fear, relaxation (lack of) and LF/HF were correlated to the caregiver's perception of the sound sensitivity of the dogs. Not only the short index for sound sensitivity (behavioural categories arousal, fear and relaxation, and LF/HF ratio) but also the full index for sound sensitivity (all behavioural categories, LF/HF and cortisol levels) was highly correlated to sound fear response at home. These indexes can contribute to the development of strategies to treat sound sensitive dogs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Arousal
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Dogs
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Relaxation
  • Videotape Recording


  • Hydrocortisone

Grants and funding

The present study was funded by Rio de Janeiro Research Agency (FAPERJ), award number: E-26/111.478/2014 and CCFS received fellowship from National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.