Electronic pest devices are battery-operated or plug-in devices that generate sound outside the range of human hearing. The idea is that the sound is annoying enough to drive pests out of the vicinity or even to induce seizures and death in them. Manufacturers insist these devices are effective on pests and harmless to pets.
Electronic pest devices purport to operate by generating either ultrasonic or subsonic sound. The terminology is relative to human hearing: Ultrasonic means it's above the upper human range; subsonic means it's below the lower human range. Most animals hear the entirety of the human range and may also hear sounds of higher or lower frequency. Since hearing can vary wildly between individuals -- and also between breeds in the case of dogs -- audiology is not an exact science, but in general the human auditory range spans 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz, and the dog range spans approximately 60 hertz to 45,000 hertz.
Having Your Cake and Eating It
Manufacturers of ultrasonic and subsonic pest control devices claim the units generate sounds that are extremely distressing to pest animals. In online advertisements, the pests listed frequently include pooping dogs and feral cats, along with a variety of other mammals. However, these same devices are supposed to be safe for your entire family, including your furry friends. Obviously you can't have it both ways. Something must give: Either the devices aren't effective or they aren't harmless.
Research indicates most of these devices are indeed harmless because they don't actually work. Testing on rodents indicates that many of these devices have no effect at all. Research conducted at Kansas State University showed certain devices were effective in crickets but not in other species, while other devices produced great initial distress in rodents and lagomorphs -- such as pet rabbits -- but none in cats or dogs. Still other tests showed some effectiveness under laboratory conditions but not under normal living conditions, where radio waves were blocked by walls and furniture. Further supporting the conclusion of ineffectiveness, a 2003 U.S. Federal Trade Commission lawsuit forced one manufacturer to refund its customers' money, and Texas has banned the sale of certain subsonic devices as fraudulent.
Damage Limited to Wallet
All in all, the research gives a mixed picture. It isn't entirely possible, from looking at this snapshot, to guarantee a specific electronic pest device won't bother your dog, but it is very unlikely to harm him. In fact, laboratory tests indicate that, even in cases whereby animals were initially distressed, they quickly acclimated to the sound and proceeded with normal life without further adverse effects -- just like you get used to the hum of a refrigerator or computer fan. If you intend to try your luck with one of these devices, simply watch your dog's reaction. If he seems distressed, discontinue use. Chances are that neither your pets nor your pests will be disturbed.
- University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Ultrasonic Pest Control Devices
- Washington State University: Ultrasonic and Subsonic Pest Control Devices
- International Association of Certified Home Inspectors: Ultrasonic Pest Repellers: Solution or Scam?
- The Physics Factbook: Frequency Range of Dog Hearing
- Louisiana State University: How Well Do Dogs and Other Animals Hear?
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.