Tip of the Month

8/15/2011 Dogs & Noise Fear

Canine noise fear is a somewhat common occurrence among dogs. These fears can soon become phobias, which are defined as “persistent, excessive, and irrational fear responses”. Noise fear can manifest in canines and cause the dog to show outward signs of fearful behavior including anxiety, attempts to escape, skittishness, panting, whining, howling, etc. There are various reasons why a dog may develop noise fear; the two primary ones being breed and “learned fear”. Certain canine breeds, such as herding breeds like Shepherds and Collies, are more genetically predisposed to developing noise fear. Also, regardless of breed, a noise phobia may be traced to a particular bad experience that a dog had involving that certain clamor. In almost all instances, the fear of noises and storms will escalate, worsening with each exposure. Soon the pet may become fearful of similar sounds or events associated with the noise. If this fear grows, they may associate certain sounds with a call to action triggering anxiety. For example, a pet afraid of thunder may also become afraid of rain due to the event association.

In the case of thunderstorms, pets may also be fearful of storm-associated events such as a change in barometric pressure, lightning, and electrostatic disturbances. In some situations even smells associated with storms can cause a dog to have fearful anxiety. Noise phobias can include fear of thunderstorms, firecrackers, doorbells, blenders, and car alarms. Each dog is unique so each dog’s reaction to every day stimuli will be different.

Dogs are products of their environment and the owner's reactionary attitude to the noise can influence the severity of the dog’s fear. For instance, if owners themselves are nervous during storms, noise phobias in their pets may occur more often or become more severe episodes. Similarly, the petting or comforting of your canine when they are reacting fearfully to a noise is actually positive reinforcement of their undesirable fearful behavior. It would be best for the owner to show no reaction when the noise occurs which will translate the message to the pet that there is nothing to be scared of, thus deactivating the noise as an anxiety trigger.

There are several things that can be done to help keep exposure to many of the alarming sounds that can arise around the house to a minimum for your pet. There are products available to help aid in comforting your dogs when they are suffering from noise associated phobias. The Thundershirt has been known to sooth a dog noticeably with the first usage. The Thundershirt is a Velcro vest that your dog wears which provides a gentle constant pressure on the canine’s torso reportedly producing a calming effect due to the envelopment of their nervous system. It is most commonly used for dogs that are afraid of thunder storms but can also help with most noise fears and phobias. There are also multiple forms of all natural sprays that are said to help anxious or fearful dogs as well as collars such as the Calming Collar by Good Behavior. The Calming Collar is said to release all natural calming pheromones into the air that relaxes your pet regardless of nearby anxiety causing stimuli.

However, despite the many behavior curbing products out there, the most ideal treatment for noise fear would be desensitization to the noise itself. For example, if your dog is afraid of the noise of the vacuum cleaner it would be best to have the dog contained in a separate part of the house while using it. You can start to expose your dog to the noise little by little, creating a positive association to the noise and desensitizing them at the same time. Set up a scenario with someone using the vacuum in the other room while you work with the dog on obedience and rewarding with the canine with the dog’s favorite treat. As time moves forward and the positive association is being put in place you can start to expose the dog closer to the noisy vacuum. This is the best way to work with your pet as a dog trainer and help them permanently cure their fears instead of just temporarily treating it!

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