Noise Phobias: thunderstorms, vacuums, and fireworks. Oh my!
If your dog is fearful of storms, fireworks, strong winds, the smoke detector, the vacuum, or other sounds, you are not alone! More than 20% of dogs have some level of noise phobia. My dog, Hilda, often shakes, pants, and paces any time she hears rain outside.
How Do Noise Phobias Develop?
Dogs develop these phobias for several reasons. Most of us, including our pets, startle when we hear loud noises unexpectedly. This is especially true if that noise is accompanied by a bolt of lightning or torrential rain. Most of us recover quickly. But some dogs (and even humans) have a genetic predisposition to anxiety or fear, making recovery from these types of events more difficult.
Lack or Habituation/Exposure
Some pups may have experienced a lack of habituation or exposure to a sound. Imagine a puppy raised in California where it rarely rains. Later in life, if this pup moves to Florida, he may experience rain for the first time in his life. The smell of the rain, its sound on the roof, and bright flashes of lightning may cause this dog to panic.
Single Traumatic Events
Noise phobia can also develop from a single traumatic event. Perhaps your pup was sleeping, and you turned on the vacuum next to her. Maybe she was outside when a sudden storm hit. This trauma can be compounded when the dog is already genetically programmed to be fearful.
With thunderstorms, a dog’s anxiety often builds with repeated exposure. Perhaps your pup used to only tremble with light rain. Now, you see increased anxiety (panting, pacing, and hiding) in your pet as each storm season comes along. Due to repeated exposure and the unpredictable nature of storms, your pet’s anxiety may increase over time. Many dogs develop these types of phobias in middle age.
How Can We Treat Noise Phobias?
The good news is that there are a lot of options to help your dog! Try to distract your pup or condition your dog to the noise. If that doesn’t help, there are some products and supplements you can use.
- As always, maintain a calm state of mind and calm body language. Do not punish or yell at your dog for his behavior. You won’t reinforce the fear by consoling your pet, so try to calm your pup with attention and soothing words.
- Find something she likes. Give your pup a special treat, like a stuffed Kong. Or, play with her favorite toy to help distract her from the sound(s).
- Desensitization is the gradual and controlled exposure to the sound. Consider noise training sessions with your dog. Play a CD with the sounds (thunder or fireworks) at a low level while you play with toys and offer your pup treats. Gradually increase the volume of the CD to help him become more comfortable when he hears the real thing.
- Create a den/ safe place for your pet. You can cover her kennel with a blanket, or clear out an area in your closet. Put comfortable blankets or a dog bed and toys or chew items in this space.
- Use pheromone plug-ins (such as an Adaptil diffuser) near the den area. Or, spray calming pheromones (such as Safety Zone) on the bedding to help relax your pet.
- Play calming music. Several music CDs are available that are specifically created to help ease anxiety in pets. Soft Rock or Reggae music can reduce pet heart rates, cortisol levels, and general stress behaviors like barking and pacing.
- Consider using an anxiety wrap such as a Thundershirt. Thundershirts work like a swaddling blanket to provide constant, calming pressure. Have your pet wear the shirt consistently so he doesn’t associate the shirt with an upcoming stressful event. It is comfortable enough for your dog to wear all day. Simply wash the shirt as needed.
- You can give some anxiety support supplements, like Composure Pro, daily for everyday stress. You can also give an extra dose if you expect storms, fireworks, or other loud noises.
- Some pets need something stronger than supplements. For these pets, we recommend anxiety medications. Give these medications every day – especially if the trigger sounds are unpredictable. Alternatively, you can give these medications before the stressful event if you know there will be storms or fireworks.
Keep in mind, that most dogs need a combination of the above options for the best results. Hilda’s treatment plan for the rainy season includes her Thundershirt, calming music, and a blanket over her kennel. When I know it will storm, I begin her anxiety medications the day before to ensure she is as comfortable as she can be.
Contact us the first time your pet shows signs of anxiety. We can help you manage your pup’s noise phobias and find ways to help him relax.