With festivals just around the corner, sounds of drums, loud music and fireworks popping up all over; some dogs have every reason to hide. Unfortunately for a dog that is afraid of noise, no amount of explaining or consoling will help. Noise Anxiety is a very common problem for dogs across the country. The estimates vary, but somewhere between 5 million and 15 million dogs suffer from noise anxiety severe enough for their owners to seek help.
Signs Of Fear
Noise anxiety can exhibit many symptoms and severity levels. On the less extreme end of the spectrum, a fear of loud sounds may just cause some shaking and clinging to their pet parent. On the other extreme, loud sounds may cause panicked running, destructive chewing, defecating indoors, or even trying to escape out of a window! Some pet parents aren’t even aware that a negative behavior they are seeing is actually caused by noise anxiety. For example, does your dog get upset when you take photographs using a flash? That may be noise anxiety! The flash may remind your dog of lightning and she becomes frightened that a storm may be coming.
Determining what caused your dog’s noise anxiety may be difficult to pinpoint, if not impossible. If you’re lucky, you may be able to trace the start of your dog’s anxiety to a traumatic incident such as being too close to a fireworks show or too close to a lightning strike and its subsequent thunder clap. But more than likely, it won’t be anything that obvious. Your dog may have a genetic predisposition for noise anxiety. Studies have shown that some breeds, such as Collies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, have a higher incidence of noise anxiety. For some dogs, noise anxiety gradually appears and worsens as they age for no apparent reason. For other dogs, it appears as a puppy and stays with them. Also if the puppies are not exposed to different sounds from a young age they are most likely to develop anxiety depending on their new pet parents responses to their fears.
One thing that most Canine Behaviorists agree on is that when it comes to noise anxiety, you don’t want to pet, cuddle, or otherwise console the dog when she’s exhibiting symptoms. Your dog will most likely interpret your behavior as, “You see, I do have something to be worried about!” It’s important for the people around the dog to behave normally during events that trigger the dog’s anxiety. In fact, a possible cause for noise anxiety in the first place is her owner’s nervousness or fear of some kind of noise. Most dogs are very sensitive to their owners’ moods. If her owner has a fear of thunder, she may give her owner the benefit of the doubt!
How To Handle Noise Anxiety
- Change The Dog’s Environment: These are the “common sense” simple things to try, if feasible for your circumstances. Try creating a safe haven for your dog (such as a blanket-covered crate) or finding a location that will reduce the noise level. Try turning on music or the television to help mask the sound of the problem noise. If you know an event is coming (e.g. festival processions, thunderstorm or fireworks), try giving your dog a lot of exercise beforehand. None of the above typically shows dramatic results, but they can help to reduce symptoms.
- Behavior Modification: Desensitization is the most common behavior modification tried for noise anxiety. In a nutshell, in a controlled environment, you begin by exposing your dog to a low level of the noise that bothers her. As she gets accustomed to it, you increase the levels louder and louder over time until she learns to tolerate the real deal.
- Medications: If your dog’s anxiety is serious enough, there are a variety of prescription medications that your veterinarian may suggest. Some are administered on a regular basis for the life of the dog. Some are given only at the time of an anxiety event. Sometimes a combination of drugs are used. If you go this route, make sure you ask your vet about any potential risks and side effects with the drugs you’re considering.
- Pheromone Replication: Several products on the market have captured the properties of the natural pheromones a mother dog releases to calm and reassure her pups is another option to consider.
If your pup/dog is still scared, a Canine Behaviorist is your next step!!. As a Canine Behaviorist i would be able to guide you in training the dog to not react to loud sounds and give you tips on how to handle the dog in such situations.