Owning a dog that is afraid of thunder or other loud noises can leave you feeling hopeless and helpless. The level of noise anxiety is just as varied as the symptoms your dog may exhibit. But there's a way to help your pooch deal with these noises.
If your dog's fear is not extreme, noise anxiety may just cause shaking or clingy behavior. However, if your dog falls on the extreme end of the spectrum, loud noises like thunder and fireworks may cause destructive chewing, defecating indoors, panicked running, or even jumping through a closed window.
Noise anxiety is a common problem dog lovers across the world face. It clearly makes the dog very uncomfortable and in rare cases may be the gateway to other health problems related to anxiety in dogs. But don't despair, there are ways you can help relieve your dog's noise-related stress.
Dog's Fear of Loud Noises
According to Dr Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, and clinical instructor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, there is a difference between fear, anxiety, and phobia in dogs.
Borns-Weil says fear is a physiological, emotional, and behavioral response to anything that poses a threat. Fear is your dog's normal reaction because it enables us and all other animals to respond to situations that could potentially be dangerous.
Anxiety in dogs, on the other hand, can be defined as a continuous fear or worry about something that is not present. Noise phobia in dogs can be an extreme, persistent fear of auditory stimuli that is out of proportion to the real danger, if any, associated with the noise.
In this article, we will be using anxiety and phobia interchangeably as the tips and advice can be applied to dogs suffering from either.
Getting to the Bottom of It
It might be close to impossible for you to determine what caused your dog's fear of noises. You might think his trauma comes from being too close to a lightning strike or fireworks, but the reason usually isn't that obvious.
Some recent studies found that just as aggression, it's possible that your dog has a genetic predisposition to noise anxiety. For example, if you own breeds such as Collies, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, you may experience a higher incidence of your dog's noise anxiety than owners of other breeds.
The same goes for dog's family tree. If your dog's parents had a noise phobia, it's very likely that your pet will respond similarly. Yes, the genetic connection is that direct.
Some dogs develop a noise phobia when they're older; for others it's a life-long stressor.
It is okay to expect some reaction from your dog when they hear loud noises. Even dogs who don't have a noise phobia may show fear. This natural instinct enables animals to respond to a situation that could potentially be harmful.
It becomes a problem when your dog generalizes his fear and every sudden or loud noise in his environment becomes a clap of thunder. That is where your dog's fear of loud noises becomes pathological and turns into a noise phobia. But this can be fixed. If you have not yet intervened, now is the time.
The Signs of Dog's Noise Phobia
Dog's noise anxiety or phobias are no laughing matter. When left untreated, this condition is likely to get worse, leading to even more serious problems for the dog. Complex molecular changes are involved in the development of a phobia in the dog. It isn’t that well understood, but it is clear that it affects how the dog processes information.
A lot of times owners don’t even realize a specific noise is scaring their pet. For example, if your dog reacts negatively to you taking a photo of him with the flash, it could be that he is afraid of the sound the flash makes.
Here is some behavior to look out for:
- your dog freezes and withdraws to a place he considers safe;
- uncontrollable shaking/trembling;
- ears flat and pulled back;
- destructive chewing;
- defecating indoors;
- runs around in a panic;
- your dog never wants to leave your side;
- starts disregarding all house rules, like jumping on furniture;
- goes through windows or squeezes into tight places to escape the noise.
Some reactions to the noise may not sound extreme but remember that even the slightest negative reaction indicates your dog suffering from the fear of loud noises or serious noise phobia, and there may be damage to his nerve cells.
How to Help Your Fearful Dog
The most important thing to remember: don’t pet, coddle or console your dog. This encourages the behavior and confirms your dog's fears – your pooch might then think they do have something to be worried about.
Ignore. Behave normally during events that trigger your dog’s anxiety. If you also happen to have a fear of thunder or other noises, understand that your dog might pick up on your mood and emotions, and jump on the fear-wagon with you.
When it comes to treatment, there is no guarantee that any one alternative is best for your dog. It is not unusual to use a combination of treatments to fix the fear of loud noises in dogs, or a noise phobia. You will have to keep in mind that some treatment options are very time-consuming, while others can be expensive.
Here are some of the most common sense solutions, and I'll move down the list onto the more time-intensive or costly ones.
1. Safe Spot – If you see a thunderstorm approaching or know that an event with fireworks is happening soon, prepare an area for your dog where you know he feels safe and secure. For example, you can put him in his dog crate covered with a blanket but only if he is crate trained. Otherwise, you might just make his anxiety worse. Alternatively, you can make him a bed in a room where you know you will be that has a reduced noise level.
2. Calming Sounds – You can turn on some type of calming music for the dog, YouTube videos or the television. If your dog's anxiety is not too bad, this may disguise the noises your dog finds scary and distract him even.
3. Tire Him Out – A tired dog is a good dog, and that applies to dog's noise phobias too. Make sure to tire your pooch dog with some playtime and exercise.
4. Distract Your Dog – You can try and see if your dog's love for fetch or tug outweighs his fear of loud noises. If you notice that he can't focus and looks worried, stop. We don't want him to associate fun things with things that scare him.
5. Squeeze Him – Experts say that applying gentle but continuous pressure on your dog may calm him because it releases hormones that make the dog feel safe. Remember, you don't want to reward your dog's loud noise anxiety so make sure that it doesn't resemble your normal petting behavior. You will see and feel your dog's muscles relax. If, however, the anxiety seems to get worse, stop.
6. Try Anxiety Treatments – There are several dog anxiety aids available to purchase, and most of them have been proven to work for a variety of anxiety cases in dogs. Invest in the following to make your and your dog's life easier during noisy times:
– Anxiety Vests: No one is sure why exactly this works so well but it seems dogs feel secure when constant, gentle pressure is applied around their torsos, much like the petting discussed above. Keep in mind that dog anxiety vests or any other pressure wrap show results at first use but some dogs might have to wear it two, three times before you see a reduction of symptoms.
– Doggles: These are specific types of goggles for dogs. These shades for your dog will diffuse or block the light. It may help some dogs relax and feel less anxiety. Do not attempt to use these on your dog for the first time during an event that causes anxiety as it will just worsen the situation. Getting your dog used to dog goggles should be done when he is calm and relaxed.
– Calming Collars: Dog calming collars, also known as D.A.P. collars, release dog appeasing pheromones that will have a calming effect on your dog. It's one of the very few dog anxiety treatments that have been scientifically proven to work.
– Mutt Muffs: This is hearing protection for dogs, similar to ear buds for us. It will lessen the intensity of sounds. Remember that same as with dog goggles, you should not use dog ear muffs the very first time when there are loud noises; you need to give your dog time to adjust to them when there's nothing to cause anxiety in your pooch.
– Anxiety Meds. There are certain dog anxiety medication aids that you can give your dog to help calm him down, and they work similar like those for people. This should be as one of the last resorts after you've tried all natural solutions.
Finally, Try Behavioral Work
If none of the above works, it is time for you to consider behavior desensitization, counter-conditioning or a combination of both. These are techniques used to help your dog get over his noise anxiety.
Desensitization is the slow exposure of your dog to sounds he overreacts to. You can buy CDs with noises (like thunderstorm) that your dog find scary and play it at a low level. As he gets used to it, you increase the sound level. Over time your dog will be able to tolerate a real thunderstorm or firework show. Counter conditioning works better on dogs whose noise phobia has been with them for a long time. It involves rewarding your dog with a treat when he does not overreact to loud noises.
At the very end of it all, if nothing still works, it's time to discuss your dog's fear or loud noises, his noise phobia and noise anxiety issues with a canine expert. Talk about this with your veterinarian and a canine behaviorist. A vet will be able to prescribe a good anxiety medication for this, and a dog trainer will teach you some effective tricks to deal with this problem. Just don't leave your dog's fear of loud noises unattended.