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It is not just the 5th of November that can cause distress for pets (and their owners), with fireworks whistling and banging in the night air. Of course, it isn’t just one night either, fireworks seem to go on forever, and then starts again on New Year’s Eve! Unfortunately, some dogs can suffer from noise phobia all year round, with loud and unexpected noises making their life a misery. In this Pets4Homes article, we will look deeper at this distressing condition, the signs to watch out for, and things that can be done to alleviate your dog’s stress.
It is really difficult to discover what can trigger the noise phobia emotion, some pets react completely differently to different sounds – for example some dogs may be completely frightened by car alarms or thunder, whilst others ignore it. One thing to highlight is that if you do have a dog that is scared of noise, it can be quite distressing, and in some cases, the reaction can be severe.
Only by knowing your own animal and discovering what are the real triggers, and perhaps thinking back to an occasion where it began can we begin to understand how to deal with the situation. But don’t worry, there are things that can be done to help reduce their anxiety.
Research has suggested that some dog breeds are more susceptible to noise phobia than others, particularly breeds that herd such as the collie dog. Researchers have found that age can have an impact on the phobia as well, with some puppies showing a response to noise as fear. Older dogs can also develop a phobia. What is worth remembering is their hearing range. Dogs can hear hugely better than humans, so what may seem fine to us, can actually cause the dog hearing pain. There are also sounds that they can hear that we can’t, as it is above our level of hearing range.
The most common signs of noise phobia that you will see in your dog are:
It’s important not to punish or dog if they show this behaviour – it is not naughty behaviour, but a fear response. Punishing them will only confuse them as they won’t understand what it is, they’ve done wrong. On the flip side making them face their fears is also not effective and is completely unfair.
As crazy as it may sound (and this is a slightly grey area) the general thinking is not to cuddle them – even though it goes against human nature to want to console. It seems it can reinforce to them that there is something to be frightened about and can increase the nervousness. Try to behave completely normally around them as you would do at any other time, they will look to you for your behaviour and it can help give them extra confidence.
If you have a young puppy, it is worth exposing them to a variety of different scenarios with different noises as a day-to-day experience – in other words, don’t blast rock music get them for the sake of it! Exposing a young puppy to noises early on can help them get used to things and they are unlikely to develop fears of loud noises as they grow up.
One of the biggest things is helping them feel safe. This is easiest if they have somewhere they can hide, whilst feeling frightened. For example, if fireworks are going off, and your dog normally sleeps in a crate, covering it over with blankets can help make them a den. This has the added bonus of being extra dark and if the blankets are thick enough, it can help muffle the loud sounds from outside. Do not try and force them into a crate, especially if they rarely use it – if they decide they want to sleep under the bed, then let them. It is much better for their anxiety to let them choose their own safe haven.
Making sure they have something to distract them can also help – their favourite toys or even a new toy especially when fireworks season is underway! Some owners prefer to turn the volume up on the TV a bit louder or even the music system – just be aware of other neighbours!
If you know there is going to be loud noises, again fireworks night is a good example, then take them for a long walk during the day if possible, before it gets dark. This will not only help them with mental stimulation but can also make them physically tired, so they rest more during the evening.
In many cases, yes it can. It takes a lot of determination, patience and professional advice. Qualified animal behaviourists are always a good source of advice as they will be able to support and guide the desensitisation of your dog to noise. Low-level noise desensitisation that is carried out in a controlled environment, can begin to put your dog on the road to less anxiety.
Also, speak to your vet as they will be able to offer more advice. Yes, vets can give medication to help reduce anxiety, but the root of the problem will still be there, so desensitisation is a good option. Many owners also prefer not to give their dogs drugs to help them through periods of stress. Again, your vets will be able to advise you on their own policies.
In conclusion, noise phobia is a common condition that can be managed and, in many cases, reduced with the correct behavioural advice and treatment. It is definitely not bad behaviour!
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