Is your dog frightened of loud noises?
I’ve seen an extreme example of this in Jade, a Border Collie. An delightful elderly couple had just lost a much-loved pet and wanted to give an older dog a happy home. They fell in love with Jade, who had spent her life confined to a tiny outhouse.
Jade proved to be an anxious dog but a loving companion to her new owners. However, one afternoon, there was a thunderstorm, and her family returned home to find a huge mess.
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During the storm, Jade had clearly become frantic. She had tried to dig her way to safety until her paws bled. She ruined the door and a wall, and then chewed the sofa to pieces. She was exhausted, traumatized and bleeding, and — the physical injuries aside — she wasn’t herself for days.
What had happened? Well, at Jade’s previous home, the outhouse roof was made of corrugated metal. An already nervous Jade was locked in the shed with no escape from the rain pounding above her head. She became phobic of rainstorms, and escape from the noise was her default reaction.
A Common Problem
But Jade’s story, although extreme, is not unique. According to a 2005 survey by the RSPCA, 49% of UK dogs show signs of fear around loud noises. Of these, one third had signs that were considered severe, such as extreme restlessness, vomiting or soiling themselves.
Has your dog ever acted oddly and seemed fearful for no reason?
It’s possible his sensitive hearing is picking up a distant storm. Experts now know noise-sensitive dogs may show fear because of distant sounds that our hearing can’t pick up.
Physical Signs of Phobia
Like Jade, some dogs leave you in no doubt of their sound sensitivity. The signs include:
- Pacing and/or whining
- Body posture low to the ground
But more than that, the stress of noise phobia can affect a dog’s health. Those stress hormones decrease the body’s ability to cope and can lead to:
- Recurrent skin infections
- Stomach upsets
- Fear of strangers or strange situations
- Ultimately a shorter life
How to Help
Never fear — you can help your pet, and here’s how:
Desensitize the Dog to Scary Noises
This isn’t a quick fix, and you need to start a minimum of 8 weeks before the scary events occur. Expose the dog to a CD of scary sounds with the volume turned low. Reward for calm behavior in the presence of the feared sound. Incrementally turn up the volume, but stay within the dog’s comfort zone.
Over the weeks you’ll find you can turn the volume higher, and the dog stays calm. This therapy is hugely successful when done correctly.
Fit the dog with an Adaptil collar or use an Adaptil plug-in close to his favorite hiding place. The pheromones, or chemical messengers, send out reassuring signals that can take the edge off mild anxiety.
This doesn’t work quickly, so start using the product at least 2 weeks ahead of any anticipated traumatic event, such as scheduled fireworks.
Provide a Hiding Place
Don’t force the dog to confront his fears — let him hide away. Provide a dark, quiet place containing a blanket and items of clothing that smell of you.
Get the dog used to the hiding hole ahead of time by seeding it with tasty treats and a favorite toy. Ideally, set up the den in advance so the dog automatically knows where to retreat to.
In extremely fearful dogs, medication can help in the short term. Drugs from the diazepam family are most effective—am they decrease anxiety and have amnesic properties. The latter means the dog may forget the trauma of a severe storm or firework display, which can help build confidence in the longer term.
Here’s another nifty tool to help noise-sensitive dogs:
A recent questionnaire by behavioral specialist Jon Bowen showed that puppies born in the fall were less fearful of fireworks than those born at other times of the year. The reason? The puppies were naturally exposed to fireworks during their socialization period, and they grew up into dogs who took loud explosions in stride.
It’s actually a great idea to expose your puppy to all manner of noises. Invest in a Sounds Scary CD (affiliate link), play it to your dog at a low volume, and then over several sessions gradually turn up the dial to help your dog become confident with noise.
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