Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT-KA
If your dog suffers from noise phobia, you know that it is a serious condition. Dogs don’t just “get over” noise phobia with time and enough exposure. In fact, we have documented cases where dogs got continually worse over time and even began generalizing their fear to other stimuli. An example of this is a dog who is afraid of fireworks that over time, becomes afraid of the backyard. If your dog is suffering, there are things you can do to keep your dog safe and even help them feel better.
Desensitization and Counter Conditioning
Begin by purchasing/downloading recordings of sounds. You can purchase a fairly comprehensive set of sounds via iTunes (buses, trucks, honking horns, construction sounds, etc). Legacy Canine sells a CD that comes highly recommended.
Begin playing the sounds so softly that your dog does not react. If your reacts, you’re playing the sounds too loud. You can leave the sounds playing for as long as you like. After a week or two of slowly increasing the volume (one click up in volume every few days). You can begin pairing the sounds with high value food. Keep these food sessions short, two minutes or less. Noise = Click/Treat. Ironically, most noise phobic dogs are not afraid of clickers but if your dog is, use a marker word like “click” or “yes”.
Set up a place in your home that provides the best insulation from noise. Set up a system that allows you to play classical music (Bach and Mozart are best), use a white noise generator or TV.
Stuff Kongs with canned food or other high value foods like chicken, string cheese, hot dog bits, etc. Have your dog’s favorite chewable on hand: smoked bones, deer antlers, himalayan chews and bully sticks all work well.
According to Karen Overall, VMD, PhD, ACVB, “pharmacological intervention has been more successful in controlling a phobic response to noise than has flooding or desensitization.” Make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine whether he/she thinks medication might be helpful for you dog. NOTE: She also notes in her book Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals: “Acepromazine is not recommended for treating aggression or for home use in tranquilizing anxious, agitated or aggressive dogs. It provides chemical restraint and is not an anxiolytic. Acepromazine can also increase reactivity to sound and so may be particularly inappropriate for anxiety induced by sounds such as thunder, fireworks, large diesel engines, etc. Benzodiazepines are considered safer for reducing situational anxiety.”
The company that makes the Thundershirt claims that their product helps 85% of dogs with noise sensitivity/phobia and since they offer a money back guarantee, it’s worth trying. Melatonin is mentioned in various articles about noise phobia written by veterinarians. Ask your veterinarian about dosages.
WARNING: Do not leave your dog outside, attended or otherwise. When your dog panics, he is pumped full of adrenaline, which gives him super doggy strength. Owners report that their dogs dug under the fence, chewed through the fence or jumped over the fence. Noise phobia is traumatic enough without having to pick your dog up from Animal Control or worse, search for your lost dog.
To learn more about noise phobia, see our previous article on Surviving the 4th of July. If you’d like this information in handout form, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.