Dog Noise Phobia Solutions
Stop your dog’s thunder, lightning and fireworks phobias here
Noise fears can kill dogs.
If you own a noise-fearful dog, then it is likely your dog is escaping, damaging itself, destroying your house and that it is tragically and dangerously scared when the noises hit.
Solutions for noise fears (more correctly called noise phobias) are complex and depend on
- Your work routine (are you away 60 hours a week or mostly home?)
- The type of home you and thus your dog lives in (brick is more sound-proof than wood)
- Is your dog a house-dog or a garden-only dog? (garden-only dogs are at much higher risk)
- The ‘type of noise’ that affects your dogs (e.g. thunder, fireworks, gunshots more below)
- The age of your dog
- His or her ability to learn
- The severity of your dog’s phobias
- And does it have co-related anxieties such as a separation anxiety (existing in the absence of noise challenges)
If your dog’s problem is severe and you are in south-east Queensland you may want to jump straight to a consultation with Dr Cam.
Start by completing this assessment form
What noise stimuli commonly affect dogs?
Dogs are commonly phobic of:-
- Thunderstorms, rain, and windy days
- Explosive noises such as gun shots and nailing guns
- Whip cracking
- Hot air balloons
- High frequency noises such as burglar alarms, smoke alarms, reversing alarms of trucks
- And ultrasonic noises that we humans can’t hear
If your main concern is your dog’s phobia of thunderstorm, now review this page:-
If your main concern is your dog’s phobias of fireworks, review this page:-
The moods involved with noise phobias
Noise fears are more correctly called noise phobias.
A phobia is where a dog has a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.
For instance, with humans, Arachnophobia is a persistent and excessive fear of spiders.
So, noise phobias with dogs are a persistent and excessive fear of noises, and events associated with those noises.
Generalisation of the phobia often occurs. For instance, a human suffering from Arachnophobia may generalise that phobia to related situations, such as the shed in which spiders are known to lurk.
Dogs will generalise their phobia of thunder storms to include:-
- rainy days without thunder
- windy days without a storm
- the rumbling, thunder-like sound of a wheelie bin being rolled down a concrete driveway.
Also, because storms are associated with a ‘rainy odour’, dogs will detect that odour being wafted in with the early breeze associated with an approaching storm.
Much the same happens with fireworks and other noises.
A case study – Whizzer the Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Let’s look at the solutions to noise-fears by examining a case study from my files.
Whizzer is a five-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier that lives with his ‘parents’ in an elevated location not far from Southbank Parklands , an entertainment precinct in Brisbane, Australia.
The house is also adjacent to a school.
Whizzer experiences three different noise challenges.
- Being in an elevated location, he is ‘in the clouds’ when storms approach and suffers the full impact of thunderstorms
- In addition, Southbank fireworks are a common torment a
- And the school next door uses starting pistols regularly in sporting events
Whizzer’s parents work business hours and they live with Whizzer in a two-story brick house.
Whizzer’s phobia is classified as severe.
The biggest problems occur when Whizzer’s parents are at work.
Noises cause Whizzer to repeatedly attempt to escape.
- struggled to scale two metre fences,
- ripped palings from the fence in his attempts to escape
- pulled the gate off its hinges several times
- chewed most of the window frames and door jambs while trying to get inside (‘inscaping) the home during a storm.
- fractured a canine tooth and has ripped his claws from his feet with his frantic chewing and scratching
- has had surgery for panic-inflicted injuries.
Understandably his concerned owners are as frantic for a solution.
The solution to this severe problem involves
- solving his fears when the owners are away (see below)
- getting the owners to handle him properly when they are home (see below)
- attempting desensitisation using sound recordings
- providing him with a sound-proof Den inside the home
- using the nutraceutical product Zylkene to create calmness
- using Homeopet Storm Stress when they know a storms in on the way and combining that with the Adaptil Spray
- and repeating both of those products as the storm is ‘passing over’
- using the Adaptil Pheromones diffuser (because he is now allowed inside when the owners are absent)
- And a combination of a slow-acting, daily medication and a quick acting ‘when you need it’ medication
The characteristics of the ‘type of noise’ that worries your dog
While dogs can be equally affected by fireworks, nailing guns, cap guns and similar noises, not all noise present the same characteristics and each needs to be handled differently
The important elements are:-
- How predictable is the noise that affects your dog
- How long does it last?
- Is it local or is it wide spread?
- Is it seasonal and, as with a storm,
- Is there an odour that is associated with the noise?
- Some noises also have a tactile nature which means the animal feels the noise. For example a dog feels the wind and rain of a storm but that doesn’t occur with many other noises.
A dog will often generalise its fear from one component of the noise to other related components.
For instance, while a dog may initially learn to become fearful of the noise of a storm, it generalises to becoming fearful to, for instance the feel (wind, rain and chill factor)of a storm.
This is why many dogs are fearful in windy conditions when there is no storm present – they presume the storm is on its way.
In the same way, a dog will generalise from the crack of lightening to show an identical reaction to the simple flicking of a light switch and the flashing of a fluorescent tube that switch creates.
The Characteristics of Thunderstorms
- are one of the most predictable noises
- are seasonal
- are intense, long and loud
- occur over a wide area
- have the added components of the atmospheric changes
- are associated with the intense vision of lightning, dark clouds, and swaying trees
- they have an odour of the sulphur-like smell of fresh rain
- they are tactile – dogs feel the wind and rain
The combination is intense and overwhelming for many dogs. This is especially so because of their acute sense of vision, hearing and, especially, smell.
Because the storms are so intense, medication is usually essential for the bad cases.
The Characteristics of Fireworks
- are somewhat predictable because they only occur at night, and mostly they are on Friday nights and the weekend and we know precisely when New Year’s Eve fireworks will occur
- because they are a nighttime only event, mostly you can be home when they occur
- are reasonably localised compared with storms which are more global
- present a therapeutic challenge because they are intense but of short duration
- are complex to solve with medication because medication may not work quickly enough to be of use, unless you use it routinely on weekend evenings just in case
Characteristics of cap guns, nailing guns and starting pistols and other explosive noises
Explosive noises are a particular nuisance.
Cap guns are often used by children and you don’t know when the neighbour’s Dennis the Menace will fire the dreaded implement. When he does, it will usually occur only for a short time before he runs out of caps or his parents, thankfully, confiscate the device. One of my clients struck a deal with his neighbour’s Dennis the ‘M’. He swapped the cap gun for a water pistol and a twenty-dollar bribe!!! This was money well spent according to his dog as it was terrified of the noise.
Medication is of little use for cap gun phobias but at least the noise can be reproduced easily and desensitising your dog to the noise is therefore easier.
Nailing gun noises are a problem when they occur. They may be predictable because when they occur in a local building, you can bet they will occur regularly over a few weeks until the building is completed. Medications often helps with nailing gun phobias. The medication should be used on a daily basis while the building is occurring and then stopped.
If you live near a firing range or an armed forces reserve, gun and explosive noises can be a dilemma. Firing ranges usually operated at certain, predictable times during the week, such as on weekends, so coping with the problem is easier as you can use either medication or careful housing to ensure your dog is safe.
Providing a soundproof Den is important for dogs with fears of explosions to give them a refuge from the noise.
Some closing comments on noise fear solutions
- It’s important you ensure that your dog is safe when you are not home. This involves careful attention to the fence to ensure escape is not possible and the provision of a soundproof Den for the dog to retreat to when it is confronted by an unexpected noise.
- Ensure that you handle the dog correctly when you are home and it suddenly becomes scared. Comforting a dog when it is scared, contrary to what many state, is exactly what you need to do and you should do that in whatever way works.
- When your dog is scared, it is good to try ‘brain’ tasks to compete with its fear and to reward it for doing just that. Usually this involves some short, and quick, but fun, obedience commands to which the dog is encouraged to respond (More information)
- Sometimes, calming massage is appropriate to help your dog to calm down.
- It is often possible to train a dog not to be scared of the noises that currently upset it. This is generally done by reproducing the same or similar noises but at a quieter level and training your dog to enjoy its exposure to these noises (More information).