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Are Dogs Afraid of Drones? (Read This First)

If you’re a dog owner that would like to get into drones, you may be wondering how your dog will react to the sight and sound of a drone. Here are a few things to consider.

The temperament and past experiences of any given dog will determine how it reacts to the sound of a drone. Some dogs will calmly notice the drone, then pay no more attention, while others may show signs of stress and anxiety. 

From personal experience as a commercial drone pilot, professional dog sitter, and a  lifetime dog owner with two beautiful Weimaraners, I can tell you that all dogs react differently to the sound and flight of drones nearby. The reactions of dogs hearing the propellers spin up and taking off into the air can run the gamut of calm to crazy! 

Let’s take a look at how to help your dog get acclimated to the idea of drones.

How well do you know your dog? 

As a dog owner, you likely know how your furry friend reacts to sounds and noises such as thunder, fireworks, and the loud sounds of various cars and trucks passing by your home. My dogs have become conditioned to get very excited at the sound of parcel delivery trucks beeping as they back into our driveway, since most of the time that means a thirty-one bag of dog food is being dropped off. 

But, if your dog runs for cover, shakes, or shows nervous behaviors during strong storms and on the 4th of July when your neighbors are celebrating, the sound of a drone may also cause similar behaviors. 

When a typical drone spins up for a flight, the tiny propellers create a relatively loud buzzing sound and emit vibrations in the air that humans may not perceive, but dogs will certainly feel. Thunder and the static electricity in the air from lightning and other atmospheric disturbances are similar. 

Your dog may even react to a lawnmower or weed whacker when you are tending to your perfectly manicured lawn. While not nearly as loud as a lawnmower, due to the lack of a gas engine powering them, drones do create similar sounds and could garner similar reactions from your pampered pup. 

Flying drones as a new hobby? 

There’s no gain in risking a new stress factor for your dog just to test the waters. If you are uncertain how they may react to your new hobby, it’s probably best to leave your dog inside when you launch your drone outside the first time. Better yet, head out to your local park. 

Generally, as a new recreational drone pilot, you will want a wide-open space and minimal distractions when you are learning to fly these very capable aircraft. Check on any local ordinances on where to fly in your area and find a place that has large open spaces to get comfortable with your new technology. 

You may even find that other dogs and their owners react to your activities and this can give you some idea of what to expect from your dog.

If you can fly at home, you will most likely see or hear the reaction from your dog before your drone lifts off the ground. Even at just an idle speed, the propellers of your drone will be heard and create vibrations in the air. 

Have a family member with them inside to see how they react and let you know if you should shut it down or not. If they don’t react adversely, it may be safe to bring them outside while you fly. 

That said, it will still be a safe idea for you and your dogs to keep them in a fenced-in area away from your drone while close to the ground, as the propellers can cause serious skin lacerations when they are spinning even at idle or hovering speeds. 

Read more: Can Drone Propellers Hurt You?

Your dog will let you know how they feel about your drone

It is rare that dogs hide their feelings from their owners and they will certainly give you some indication as to their approval (or not) of your new hobby. If you have approached the introduction of your new hobby slowly and haven’t seen any anxious behaviors from your dog,  then, by all means, give them a little more exposure to your flying. 

But, if they react negatively, it’s best to limit their exposure to the new experience immediately and rethink your need to include them in this new activity. Repeated exposure could condition the negative response to become more problematic and possibly lead to additional behavioral issues. 

Probably the most important aspect of flying drones is awareness of your surroundings, including cars, people, and of course pets, in your area of operation. Just as the FAA states that only a  certain classification of drones can operate over moving cars or assemblies of people, you can mitigate the related potential hazards by extending that to pets as well as wildlife. 

The FAA and other governing agencies have written guidelines regarding restrictions and penalties related to molesting wildlife and flying in protected wildlife management areas. Use common sense, maintain situational awareness, and avoid operating too close to animals, people, and property not under your control. 

Train and condition your dog to overcome his fear of drones

Often, fear and stress factors have been conditioned, but sometimes dogs just react to different sounds, frequencies, or even vibrations in the air. If you find that your dog reacts negatively to the sound of your drone and for some reason cannot separate them from the adverse stimulus, you will need to work on other ways to mitigate the issue. 

Consider having another family member hold and talk nicely to your dog when you fly your drone to reinforce comfort and reduce their anxiety. This is a common natural response to dogs that display anxiety during storms or reactions to other loud noises, so it makes sense to extend that love and care with your new hobby. 

There are a lot of great resources available online to help with behavioral issues for our dogs that could help in reducing their anxiety with drone noises, as well as other sounds that typically cause adverse behavior or reactions. Visit the American Kennel Club website for more tips on managing pet anxiety. 

Prioritize the health and safety of your dog 

Ultimately, caring for your dog and your new drone hobby will not be competing priorities in your life. FAA guidelines for both recreational and commercial drone operations state that the remote pilot in command of a drone should be directly in control of the aircraft at all times,  which means that their hands are on the remote and able to manipulate the controls. 

If you are trying to multi-task your flight operations and keeping an eye on your dog at the park, the added distraction will not be conducive to a safe environment. The FAA also states that a drone pilot must always maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) of the drone while in flight. Your dogs running around, living their best life, will certainly be another distraction for you as a pilot. 

Leave your dog at home and operate your drone at a park or other locations away from them. If you must have your dog with your while flying your drone, have a family member with you to keep an eye on them while you fly. Keeping an eye on your drone will require all your attention to operate it safely. 

Not a drone pilot, just a concerned dog owner? 

The popularity of drones for hobby pilots has been on the rise for some time now and in recent years, the FAA and local government organizations have been working to ensure the safety of everyone while providing the freedom of enjoyment for pilots. 

There has also been an increase in commercial operations of drones for applications such as real estate photography, cell tower inspections, and even parcel delivery to residential neighborhoods. 

While restrictions are in place to limit disturbances caused by an increase in drone operations, the likelihood that you will encounter a drone while walking your dog or even seeing a delivery drone flying overhead on its way to a neighbor’s home is probably going to be a foreseeable future norm. 

If you feel drones operating in your area are causing anxiety for your dog, there are a couple of  things to keep in mind: 

  • First and foremost, bringing your dog indoors until the activity has ended is the most direct mitigation to their discomfort and stress.
  • If it’s a commercial operation, the FAA will be able to identify the activity and operating pilot/organization to investigate.
  • Commercial pilots understand there are laws and restrictions for certain operations that cause undue or repeated disruptions to residents or activities of others and will be more than happy to discuss your concerns with you if approached. Just give them a moment to bring the drone back down to earth.

Ultimately, understanding your dog will prepare you to mitigate most anxiety issues or at least deal with them when they occur. 

Whether you are a new drone pilot, a seasoned professional, or just a concerned citizen, understanding more about safe drone operations will help you deal with issues when they present themselves.

Photo by Channey Tang-Ho on Unsplash