Is Your Dog Scared Of Loud Noises or Suffers Bad Noise Anxiety?
Noise Phobia In Dogs
What is Noise Phobia?
If your dog is scared of loud noises, be it traffic, sirens, thunder, fireworks, or even household noises, they may have a noise phobia also known as noise anxiety in dogs.
A phobia, as in humans, is an irrational and persistent fear of something. This may result in behaviours that are far more extreme than merely being startled by a loud noise, which is a normal response.
Symptoms of noise phobia in dogs, include:
- Shaking or trembling
- Panting or drooling, even without exercising
- Tucking their tail between their legs
- Pushing their ears back
- Wide eyes
- Clinging to their human
- Hiding or cowering
- Refusing to move, sometimes to the point of seeming catatonic
- Barking, Whining, etc
- Urinating or defecating in the home despite being house trained
- Destructive behaviours like chewing, digging, or scratching
- Bolting or trying to escape from the home or situation
Some of these behaviours as you can imagine, can potentially lead to disaster, especially if your dog bolts when frightened perhaps into a road, or destroying household furniture.
Why Has My Dog Developed a Noise Phobia?
The reason for phobias developing in dogs is partly genetic and partly learned behaviour. It seems to affect some breeds of dogs more than others, such as collies, golden retrievers, and German shepherds.
We don’t know for sure how many dogs suffer with a noise phobia, but Dogs Trust suggests it could be upto 5 million dogs in the UK who display behaviours associated with noise anxiety.
As the problem can arise in puppy-hood, the emphasis on puppy training can’t be stressed enough. Puppies need lots of socialisation, and ‘habituation’ – i.e. getting them used to every day sights and sounds in the environment, so a puppy who has grown up in a noisy house is less likely to experience a noise phobia.
If your dog starts to experience an abnormal response to noises in later life, it could be a sign that he is losing his sight or even developing dementia. Therefore, if your dog begins to exhibit new behaviours, first seek advice and a check up with your vet to rule out anything medical.
How Do I Manage Noise Phobia in My Dog?
There are two main elements to managing noise phobia in your pet.
- Firstly, how to manage the acute event, for example how to keep him calm on fireworks night if you know this is a trigger.
- Secondly, how to treat the phobia long term so it is no longer a problem.
- Make your dog a ‘den’, a good example is a dog crate covered with a thick, heavy blanket to help muffle the sounds. Put it somewhere that your dog feels safe, and make the space feel quite small so your dog is well snuggled in. Make it dark and quiet.
- Reduce the impact of the noises if possible – if it’s fireworks for example, close windows and curtains, counteract the noise by putting on the TV, etc.
- Keep yourself calm and act normally – therefore showing your dog that you are not affected by the noise. And try not to admonish him for behaviours you might consider to be bad, such as chewing furniture, remember he’s doing it because he is anxious.
- Some suggest that natural pheromones and herbal products can be used to help calm your dog, which are available in sprays and diffusers. There are even calming supplements available as chews or drops, so perhaps speak to your vet if you are thinking of trying these. I’ve put a couple of suggestions below for over the counter products commonly used to help support anxiety in dogs.
Pet Remedy Calming Spray
Pet Remedy Calming Spray contains Valerian essential oil blended with Vetiver, Sweet Basil and Sage to calm your furry friend without the need for sedation.
Adaptil Calm Home 30-day Starter Kit
Contains a synthetic copy of the ‘dog appeasing pheromone’ which a mother naturally releases to calm and reassure her litter. It has the same effect on adult dogs. It is scentless and species specific. Scientifically proven.
Long Term Management
Treating your dogs phobia long term involves a process called ‘desensitisation and counter-conditioning’. This is a behavioural technique which re-introduces the sensitising noises at a very low level and gradually builds up over sessions with reward, to allow your dog to make a positive association with the sounds.
It is gradual, and will take time. You may require the help of a behavioural therapist, and in the meantime while the process is ongoing, your vet may suggest medical treatments to help calm your dog if his symptoms require it. These may be anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications for example.
In brief, this is how counter-conditioning works:
Using a CD with good quality sound recordings in which to de-sensitise your dog to the sounds he dislikes – e.g. fireworks, this is gradually introduced from very low volume to higher volumes as your dog progressed.
Counter conditioning should be undertaken in a calm and safe environment where your dog feels comfortable, and when he is relaxed and at play. Ensuring that treats are at hand to use as rewards, engage him in playing with his toys before playing the sounds.
Start playing the sounds at a volume almost inaudible to humans, and watch closely for your dogs reaction. If he carries on playing and ignores the sound, reward him with a treat, and increase the volume very slightly at the next session.
If he reacts to the sound, stop, and re-engage your pup in relaxing playtime. Start again next time at an even lower volume.
Eventually, the hope is that he will gradually tolerate the sounds at a louder volume each time until he is no longer bothered by them.
Counter conditioning is a long process, and may cause more harm than good, so if things are not going well, seek professional advice.
You may wish to try a CD of good sound recordings and they are available to buy. This one below, by Company of Animals, contains a range of indoor and outdoor sounds and includes a training manual. It is certainly worth using sound recording CD’s as part of puppy habituation training as this will help prevent noise phobia as he grows up.
Many dogs have been found to show signs of an abnormal response to certain sounds, therefore making it a potentially common problem encountered.
You may have a dog breed which is genetically predisposed to suffering noise phobias, or inadequate training as a puppy may have led him to develop this problem.
Either way, there are steps you can take to help action it and bring it under control. Ensure you rule out any medical problem with your dog first, and then provide him with a really safe space.
It may take a long time, but techniques for changing his behaviour are available and noise phobia can be successfully treated with desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
Thanks to the following resources for this excellent insight:
The Dogs Trust – https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/training/what-to-do-if-your-dog-is-scared-of-loud-noises
The American Kennel Club – https://www.akcchf.org/canine-health/your-dogs-health/noise-phobia-in-dogs.html
PetPlan – https://www.petplan.co.uk/pet-information/dog/advice/dog-noise-anxiety/