Tips to help your dog overcome noise phobia
You may have noticed how sudden loud noises like thunder, fireworks, a garbage truck, a blender or even a vacuum cleaner startles your dog causing panic. The dog may run and hide in a quiet place or run to you seeking comfort. Some shake, drool, pant and bark excessively or even pee a little.
According to canine experts, most anxieties develop in dogs when they are between 12 and 24 months and may worsen if left unchecked as the dog matures. Puppies that are not exposed to a variety of loud noises have a much higher chance of being overly fearful as adults. Also, if a dog reacts in a certain way to one type of noise for instance thunderstorms, it is likely to react similarly to fireworks.
Much as you may want to comfort or soothe the dog at the time of distress, this can be counter-productive. To your dog, petting is a reward so petting an over-reacting dog in an attempt to comfort him may inadvertently confuse him and reinforce his anxious behaviour.
So what should you do?
First, fear is a normal reaction and it is important to first observe your dog during an episode and see how you can calm him. Observing first will help you prevent the problem from getting worse. You can have a safe den for the pet. Look for a dark and cosy spot in the house where the dog can run to for self-soothing when there is a loud noise. A silent, still environment provides some sort of relief to a distressed pet.
Another option is to cover their kennel or crate or even a table that your dog is accustomed to with several layers of blankets to increase the noise-muffling effect. You will however need to train them to find this safe haven. Use treats, toys and chews to get the dog to know the place and he should ideally even take a nap there. Start this early on soon as the dog starts showing signs of phobia.
For noises like fireworks, calm soothing music that drowns out distressing noise can help relax your dog. And if they have phobias to discrete sounds such as a vacuum cleaner or a blender, systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning can be effective. Do this by getting a recording online of similar frightening sounds and playing them at a low volume. Gradually increase the intensity over time while making sure to stay below the threshold that can cause your dog to become anxious. With time, the dog will get accustomed to the noise.
For any phobias, always be observant to know when a fear is becoming a potential long-term problem that requires action.
Maryanne is a pet owner. [email protected]