Dog noise anxiety is a serious behavior problem, but can most often be addressed at home using several different training methods.
For most of us, fireworks mean that there is a celebration going on, and thunderstorms may even lull us to sleep. Unfortunately for our animals, though, loud noises can often cause extreme anxiety. It usually will worsen, too, if it is not taken care of when symptoms start, so the sooner that you can work with your dog using these suggestions, the better.
Dog noise anxiety: signals
Fear of loud sounds can range in extremes, but here are some symptoms to look out for: cowering, extreme panting and drooling, barking and howling, trembling, hiding, destroying things in your home, freezing in one spot, peeing or pooping in the house, and/or escaping (or attempts at escaping) which could injure him/her.
How can I help when I notice symptoms?
Seeing our canine companions in distress is a terrible thing to watch. Though your first instinct is might be to hug or hold him close when he is scared, it is important to never reinforce your pet’s anxious behavior. If a loud thunder clap echoes through the house, and your friend yelps and tries to hide, petting or hugging causes him to think that you are praising him for his anxious behavior. Even saying “Good boy (or girl!)” or “It’s okay!” are words of praise that will continue to reinforce this type of fear response.
So what is good to do? Many things! Before listing some of these options, it is vital to note that every animal is different. A treatment may work for one dog, but will not for another, so it is important to try some of the different methods and see what works best. If you find that one method is not working, simply move on to another option and see if that one works better.
Dark Spaces: You may find her hiding in dark corners, closets, or under tables. If this calms your pet, create a safe dark place for her to go. If she continues to be anxious in this space, try something else on the list.
Calm Room: Some animals react well to being in a quiet room in the house. If they’re not being destructive, leaving them alone to calm themselves down is a sometimes a good option. If they’re destructive, you can sit quietly with them.
Soothing Music: Before the cause of the stress begins, play calming music. This can help to soothe them before the stressful event, and can help to drown out some of the noise as well. See the section below on desensitization for additional information.
Gentle Pressure: Many people have found relief for their canine companions by providing them with gentle pressure, and using pressure to relieve anxiety has been a common practice for years now. There are some great items available to help achieve this. For example, the thundershirt, the anxiety wrap, and the storm defender are excellent products that work on this principle.
Crate: If your pet is crate trained, and enjoys staying in their crate, they may consider this a safe place to go in a storm. Putting a blanket over the top of the crate for extra darkness can be even better. However, NEVER force crating. If she does not want to go in, do not make her do so. This could cause even more anxiety that will be harder to fix.
If dog noise anxiety is still an issue after trying the ideas above, it would be good to get in touch with an animal behaviorist in your area who can help guide you through working with more complicated techniques like desensitizing and counter-conditioning your pet to the sounds that cause them distress.
Desensitization works better when a canine companion has recently established a phobia to noise. This technique is done by exposing your pet to the noises that he reacts to. Things like audio recordings are used to accomplish this, and with proper work, yours will eventually learn to ignore similar loud sounds. Here is Victoria Stilwell’s noise phobia audio series. You can listen to sound samples, and see how the recordings slowly increase in the amount of stimulation while soothing classical music is overlaid. Organizations like the ASPCA recommend using recordings to help desensitize your canine companion.
Another method that behaviorists use is called counter-conditioning. This therapy involves rewarding your dog for not reacting to the noise. For example, when your pet is sitting calmly while a thunderstorm is happening, you can reward them with a treat. When they start to act out, you would not give them anything. This works better for some dogs than others.
Both of these techniques can be extremely beneficial if done correctly, which is why it is always a good idea to set up a session with an animal behaviorist to see how these methods are used properly with your pet.
Below, we’ve listed some helpful tools that we recommend to go along with the different methods above for dealing with dog noise anxiety and sound phobias.