Dog Noise Phobias
Dog Noise Phobias and Dog Noise Anxiety
Why is my dog sensitive to noise and what can I do to help?
Dog noise phobias are common and can be a source of great distress for you and your pet. If your dog is very anxious with loud noises, early intervention can stop the problem from getting worse and generalising to other situations.
Signs of dog noise anxiety and phobia
Dogs who are concerned about loud noises may:
- Blindly try to escape
- Hurt themselves and their environment
Fireworks and storms can cause noise phobia
On nights with storms or fireworks, the number of stray dogs wildly running around the streets after escaping increases. In some ways, a fireworks fear is easier to tackle than a storm noise phobia as it is more predictable.
Often dogs have both fears, starting out with just a fear of extreme noises then generalising to any sudden noise.
And just as noise phobias can often get worse and worse each time, if you implement some measures to help your pet cope, they may, in fact, improve their tolerance for noise each time.
There are a number of steps you can take to help your canine friend cope with the din and we also suggest some technology for a quicker fix.
Why is my dog worried about noise?
Dogs have very sensitive hearing and can hear much higher frequencies than we can.
Who knows how those fireworks really sound to them? They are certainly loud enough to us.
Sometimes the problem stems from generalised anxiety, whether that be separation anxiety and being unable to cope alone, or a fear of new situations and lack of confidence. Sometimes the problem stems from poor socialisation and a lack of exposure to new situations and noises before 16 weeks of age.
How we make dog noise phobia and dog noise anxiety worse
Sometimes noise fears will worsen over time. Your dog naturally feels anxious if something scary occurs. Physiological changes (such as increased heart rate, dry mouth, noise sensitivity and light sensitivity) can then make him feel physically different.
There is a great deal of difference between a natural caution and fear of loud noises and a true irrational phobia.
Dogs are very intuitive creatures, so as much as possible do not give them any reason to be more scared.
Allow your dog to be with you, but do not add to his worry by excessively comforting him. They can’t tell the difference between your concern for them and being scared yourself.
Dogs understand more from our actions than our words, so try to help him relax by playing a game, yawning and make sure your tone of voice and body language is playful.
Often dogs feel safer with their family, so avoid putting your dog outside and if at all possible, stay home with your dog or find someone who can.
Dog noise phobia technology
There have been some excellent developments in technology to help overcome dog noise phobia:
- The Adaptil pheromone collar (or diffuser that plugs into a powerpoint) can be used to great effect with anxious dogs. It works by releasing pheromones that remind your dog of the safety of being with his mum.
- Thundershirts are like a big warm hug. No one is sure why they work, but certainly, some dogs are reassured by this slightly compressive dog coat.
- Through a Dog’s Ear is a series of audio CDs developed by Victoria Stilwell, with calming music and full instructions on how to introduce loud noises gradually.
Medications for dog noise phobia
In some dogs, pharmacological intervention is necessary. There is a variation in the sensitivity and efficacy of the medication, so contact your vet well in advance.
You might need to do a few trials to get the dose and medication right for your dog. In dogs that have multiple anxieties, such as separation anxiety, it is sometimes useful to put them on longer-term medications that can lower their level of arousal.
An anxious dog isn’t usually in a good mental state to learn new skills. Behavioural modification can be completely ineffective if your dog is consistently anxious, hyperactive, hyper-vigilant and unable to concentrate.
Chemical changes in the brain that occur after several weeks of medication, combined with training, can really improve the quality of life for an anxious dog. Not all dogs require life-long medications, many can be gradually tapered off their ‘happy pills’.
Create a safe den for your anxious dog
Many dogs like to go somewhere dark and cosy when scared. You can assist by providing a sound-proof room or den, set up with a comfy bed, some toys, and preferably some distracting noise such as the radio or TV.
This should not be somewhere you banish your dog, because chances are he will feel safer with the family nearby. You can create a den anywhere you like, but ideally, use a relatively sound-proof internal room or an area without a window.
If this is not possible, you can block a small external window in the laundry or bathroom with foam, or place several layers of blankets over a kennel or transport crate to increase the noise-muffling effect.
Your dog may need to be trained with treats, chews and toys to locate the safe haven.
He should ideally feel safe enough to take naps there. If your dog already has a bolt-hole, such as under the bed, just work on making it even more noise-proof and comfortable.
A noisy bathroom fan can provide great white noise to mask fireworks. Some dogs find any noise overstimulating, so experiment with what works for your dog. If you choose to try distracting noises, try single instrument non-stimulating classical music, rather than heavy rock.
Stress relief with chewing and toys
Chewing for dogs is a great stress-reliever.
Give your dog a Kong, Greenie or pig’s ear. You are not rewarding him for fear, just helping him cope. Use something very big and tasty and that will ideally last for a while.
You can also use puzzle toys or a Buster Cube to keep your dog occupied with games and treats.
Other ways to calm dog noise phobia
Training your dog to settle on command can take a little time, but is certainly a useful skill to develop. It is a way to reliably get your dog to stay on his bed or in his den and teaches him how to relax on cue.
You could also try giving your dog a relaxing massage.
Desensitisation can also work. This involves using pre-recorded loud noises played at progressively higher volumes over a few weeks while your dog is relaxed or eating.
The Frightful Noises CD by Dr Cam Day has been developed for this purpose. If your dog reacts, you need to take it back a step to a much lower volume and increase more gradually.
We can help your dog overcome noise phobia
If your dog is anxious, destructive or in danger of harm during storms or fireworks, please seek our advice. We can help you with medications and some training.
Often the fear worsens over time, so it is important to implement strategies early on to avoid a full-blown phobia.
Dogs also have a tendency to generalise their fear to any loud noise, so what starts out as a moderate fear of one stimulus can become a paralysing fear of many situations.
If your dog needs help with a noise phobia or other behavioural issue we conduct behaviour consults. In these consults, we spend extra time having an in-depth discussion with you on how to treat behaviour issues.