Every dog is unique and they each have their own quirks and coping techniques. Dogs are unable to communicate like humans and it is up to us, as owners, to figure out how to help them. Many dogs have what is called a noise phobia or an excessive fear of sound.
When triggered by a loud noise it will result in the dog trying to avoid and escape the sound. This type of phobia is irrational, intentional and persistent. A noise phobia does not discriminate, it can happen to any breed at any age.
What Makes a Noise Phobia?
A fear response in a dog is completely natural. You might find that your dog has a fear response to thunderstorms. A phobia is what happens when this response becomes inappropriate. The more intense the dog responds to a stimulus the more it becomes a high graded response or a phobia.
For example, if you live in an area that has frequent thunderstorms your dog may react by barking, hiding, or drooling. This is a natural response to a loud noise.
This becomes a problem when the behaviors become obsessive or if the behavior happens constantly. If your dog hears a loud noise and begins to pace, hide, or bark it can be a sign that there is a phobia.
There is a difference between barking or hiding during a thunderstorm then barking or hiding after every loud noise made, at that point it is obsessive. These fears can develop gradually, or they may show a quick onset.
According to scientist, once an event has been experienced a dog can associate a reaction or feeling in relation to that event. Dogs have sensitive hearing and when they hear the brain processes that noise to determine if it might signal danger.
The good news is, treating noise phobias can be done in a safe and positive manner!
Treating a Noise Phobia
Avoid Sympathy: This is one of the hardest things for us as humans! When our animals are frightened, we will want to comfort them. Sometimes we over-compensate to try and make them happy, which can cause more stimuli.
Exposure Therapy: One of the best ways to treat a noise phobia is with slow exposure, this is a gradual process that will take a few weeks or months. One of the best ways to expose your dog to a noise is by taking a recording of the noise or having a CD with the noise on it.
You will start by playing the sound on low, so low that you may not be able to hear it! Make sure that you are doing this when your dog is relaxed! You want to start to retrain your dog to hear this sound as a pleasurable experience.
If you notice that your dog is reacting negatively during this time this is a sign that it is being played too loud. It is key that the volume is very low, and it is gradually increased over time. The goal is to have the dog perceive this noise as something normal or common.
As the dog relaxes to this noise and starts to show some tolerance you can begin to raise the volume. Make sure that you are moving the sound!