It's become normal for us to have so many things plugged in around the house that we don't even think about. Try turning off the lights in your house at night and looking at all of the illumination from TVs, computers, video game stations, and other devices that are always plugged in. Even though we don't notice those things most of the time, a dog's senses can pick up more than ours can, so they may be affected by it.
What can a dog sense?
A dog's senses are geared differently than ours are. We can't see ultraviolet light or hear high-frequency sounds, but dogs can. Even though a dog's eye looks very similar in structure to that of a human eye, research suggests dogs eyes are sensitive to UV light. A 2014 study examined whether mammals, including dogs, cats, rats, reindeer, ferrets, pigs, hedgehogs, and many others, could see UV light.
The results show that the eyes of many of these species do allow UV light to penetrate. A dog's eyes, in particular, allowed more than 61 percent of the UV light to pass through and reach the photosensitive receptors in the retina. Human eyes, by contrast, do not allow any detectable UV light to pass.
The average adult human cannot hear sounds above 20,000 Hertz (Hz). Dogs, on the other hand, can hear ultrasound, which is defined as sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hz, according to the American Kennel Club. Dogs can also detect much quieter sounds than we can. With sound being measured in decibels, humans can't hear anything below 0 decibels, which itself is barely detectable to us. Dogs, however, can hear sounds between -5 dB and -15 dB on average.
All lightbulbs, including LEDs, have a quality called light flicker. The amount of flicker depends on the light and the voltage. Some people's senses seem to be more perceptive of light flicker than others. While you may not see the LED lightbulbs flickering, they could look like a strobing disco ball to your dog. Even a television, which looks like continuous movement to you, could look like each frame is flickering to your dog.
Are dogs affected?
All of this means that if your dog is going crazy and you don't know why, it could be because she hears something you don't. Our gadgets aren't designed to be appealing to dog ears...so the refrigerator hum, the smoke alarm screech, or the garage door opener emits ultrasound that your dog is likely hearing.
According to engineering and scientific consulting firm Exponent, other commercial products that emit ultrasound include burglar alarms, motion detection light switches, automated vehicle sensors, fish finders, ultrasonic cleaners, parametric loudspeakers, and electronic pest control devices.You may only hear the smoke alarm when it beeps to tell you to replace the battery, but your dog could be hearing it all the time.
All of this "noise" in their environment could be affecting them, it's just not clear how. A 2005 study published in Comparative Medicine that examined the effect of noise on lab animals noted altered heart, sleep, and endocrine cycles in animals and a greater susceptibility to seizure. A 2015 study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that seizures were triggered by high-frequency sounds.
It's not hard to imagine all this residual "noise" contributing to anxiety and behavior issues in some dogs, even if we can't yet prove it. Our dogs cannot tell us that something is bothering them, and perhaps, some dogs are so used to it that it doesn't bother them.
The worst home electronic noise for dogs
CNET examined the home electronic noise levels in a sample media room that they created. The sound signatures that set off the highest levels of electronic noise were the LED lightbulb in a table lamp and the 42-inch LCD TV on the wall. These are pretty obviously essentials in most modern homes, so these may not be possible to eliminate, but there may be some steps you could take.
How to reduce electronic pollution
Removing all of the "electronic pollution" sounds that a dog can hear in their environment probably isn't possible. But there may be some ways to reduce these disturbing sounds dogs hear if you think the technology might be affecting your dog.
Try unplugging or turning off some things that aren't in use (this could also have a beneficial effect on your electric bill). Try to keep at least one room of your house free of plugged in devices, including LED lights. If you have a bank of computer equipment or home audio equipment, try to put it in a garage or closet that can be closed off. When buying LED lights, or any other type of lighting, look for ones with a low flicker rating.
As more people are plugging in more devices and more smart home components, it's worth thinking about the unintended effects these might have on the other creatures that share our homes with us. Even if your dog seems fine, the "noise" from home electronics could still be having an effect.
- The Royal Society Publishing: The Spectral Transmission of Ocular Media Suggests Ultraviolet Sensitivity is Widespread Among Mammals
- American Kennel Club: Dogs Don’t Have a Sixth Sense, They Just Have Incredible Hearing
- Exponent: Ultrasound in Consumer Products: Perception and Safety Assessment
- Comparative Medicine: Hearing in Laboratory Animals: Strain Differences and Nonauditory Effects of Noise
- Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery: Audiogenic Reflex Seizures In Cats
- CNET: Is Technology Driving Your Pet Insane?
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Lighting Ergonomics - Light Flicker