Noise sensitivity in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

noise sensitivity in dogs

Any kind of noise sensitivity for a dog may not only be hugely traumatic for the dog involved, it’s distressing for the owner to witness too. This fear response to certain noises may be linked to various different sounds, one or two, or span a wide range of different noises. But why do dogs develop such anxiety about sounds? And what can we do with our pups to prevent noise sensitivity developing?

Studies have shown approximately 80% of pet suffer with some kind of noise sensitivity or noise phobia (Maddison, 2016). It is hugely distressing for a dog, or indeed any animal, to display a fear response to sounds so it’s hugely important we set our pups up to confidently accept any kind of novel or familiar sound well. Sound phobias are not uncommon, they will largely develop due to lack of habituation to a particular sound or noise, or due to over-exposure causing distress or anxiety. They can be associated with ANY sound, from a siren to fireworks to thunder, there is no standard ‘sound’ which will induce a fear response. Of course, the ones we are likely all most familiar with is indeed fireworks. I will not delve too much into how to deal with an already noise phobic dog, more focus on puppies!

For reference, what are the physiological signs we may see when a dog is noise phobic?

  • increased HR
  • urination
  • panting
  • lip licking
  • dilated pupils
  • tensing of muscles

These are a broad and general range of physical changes you may see, however the behavioural signs may be easier to spot, these may include:

  • pacing
  • escaping behaviour
  • barking/whining/vocalising
  • self-harm
  • hiding

Of course, some of these are descriptive of severe cases. Often, you may see a dog simply seeming ‘uneasy’ and being particularly clingy to you, seeking reassurance for example.

The key point to remember with noise phobia is that we can set our pups up from very early on to be relaxed around any kind of noise. We encourage our pup to be relaxed and tolerant of lots of different types of sensory manipulation, for example:

  • touch/handling – we work on trading a touch for a treat
  • sight – we work on not racing after every moving object ie. rabbits/birds etc
  • sound – we can work on instilling calmness in our pups around all types of noises
  • fans/wind – we work on habituating our pups to ‘blustery weather’ and bags flapping in the wind etc
  • animals on tv – we play videos of animals/dogs on tv to habituate our pups to the sight of them in our living rooms!

So how can we go about all this? We can start with some sensory education! We expose our pups to many different sounds whilst pairing them with something good. We would start off very gradually, for example having some sounds playing very quietly, whilst doing our training sessions for example. We would then in time be raising the volume bit by bit. We would keep our pups busy whilst this is going on, so the noise of the sounds very quickly transfers to ‘background noise’. The more a puppy hears a certain sound/noise and is exposed to it positively the better, by pairing it with something GOOD we will build up positive associations with the offending sound.

Breeders are often quite on the ball with this! You may find your breeder has already been playing audio cd’s of various noises prior to your pup moving in with you, and you simply need to continue the process. However, if your breeder hasn’t done this, do not panic you can buy many cd’s online which are specifically designed for gradual exposure to sounds for puppies. Victoria Stillwell does a ‘noise phobia’ series of cd’s for example. You can start off with simply ‘relaxation’ sounds (some say puppies relax to classical music!) and then as your pup becomes comfortable with this via associating these sounds with something positive and reinforcing, you can gradually ‘up’ the level of cd’s until you are listening to fireworks or thunderstorms.

So, some tips:

  • gradual exposure to MANY different sounds
  • invest in audio cd’s ie. Victoria Stillwell series
  • pair potentially ‘scary’ sounds with something positive
  • repeated exposure, so noise becomes background noise, passively heard rather than actively listening
  • try to ensure pup has been exposed positively to many different sounds he will encounter during life by approximately 14-16 weeks old
  • start with ‘calming’ sounds, build up to more ‘offending’ sounds ie. fireworks
  • watch your pup and ensure he is comfortable throughout any noise exposure

If your pup DOES develop noise sensitivity later on, please don’t think you have done something ‘wrong’. The likelihood is you haven’t. You can do everything right, and still find there is one tiny issue which your pup develops. Remember your pup does have a genetic make-up too! There are medications available depending on the severity of the problem, ask your vet for advice. It must be remembered that whilst these may work, they do not treat the underlying cause they will simply ‘mask’ the problem. However, in severe cases, it is a necessity. Often medication is prescribed alongside a behaviour modification programme.

There are a multitude of natural remedies out there too, all claiming to help with anxiety relating to things such as noise phobias, travel, kennelling etc. I must state I have not looked into scientific studies relating to the effectiveness of various herbal products, feel free to though if you are interested! There are pheromone products like adaptil collars and plug ins, rescue remedy drops, skullcap valerian products, the list goes on.

Try and remember with regards to our pups, gradual habituation to ALL kinds of sounds will hugely reduce the risk of your pup developing a noise phobia long term. It won’t completely eradicate it, but it will set your pup up with a better chance. Look into sound sensitivity cd’s, you may find them hugely beneficial!

I do cover habituation to objects and sounds in my 1-2-1’s, and talk about how best to go about exposing your pup to these. For more information just get in touch!

Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Separation anxiety in puppies – Cambridge Puppy Training

separation anxiety in puppies

Separation anxiety is a common and quite distressing problem for dogs. Many dogs develop separation anxiety largely due to them never having to face the prospect of ‘being alone’. In puppies in particular, we can see why separation anxiety may occur. They have left all they have ever known, been put into a strange and unfamiliar environment, and when the one thing they DO cling to (you) leaves, they simply do not know how to cope. So, what can we do about it? And more importantly, how can we prevent it even starting?

Firstly, let’s look at what separation anxiety is. Separation anxiety, or isolation anxiety, displays itself when a puppy is unable to cope with being left alone. I’m sure we have all at some stage felt a little anxious or uneasy at certain points, maybe your first day in a new job and it’s daunting and scary and you just want the familiarity of home, or your first day at university when you really don’t’ know if you can cope and again want to run home! Well these feelings to us are merely a normal emotional response to a new and daunting challenge, we have the ability to see these feelings for what they are and the context they are felt in. However, for our pups, it’s a bit harder. Our pups develop a very real and strong attachment to US, so when we leave, without prior preparation and conditioning for this, it can be hugely traumatic for our pups.

So, how does separation anxiety begin in the first place?

  • A puppy who has never had to cope alone, or never been left alone.
  • A puppy who has had a frightening incident at home ie. fear of the washing machine sound, fireworks have given pup an irrational fear of a certain room of the house etc.
  • Rescue dogs – not always, but a dog who has been moved about a fair amount may develop anxiety when left alone (understandably!).
  • Genetics – exactly what it says! Genetic predisposition to the behaviour.

How does separation anxiety display itself? What will we see?

  • A shadow – does your dog follow you around the house, everywhere, even to the bathroom?
  • Obvious signs of distress – pacing, scratching at the door/flooring, whining, barking, howling, urinating/defecating.
  • Physiological signs of distress – increased HR, increased respiration, dilated pupils, restless, unable to lay down, moving constantly.
  • Destruction – often this can be something with your scent on ie. slippers, clothing, sofa cushions etc, and leaving a little ‘den’ of destruction! We have all seen images of such destruction on Facebook I am sure, the dog chewed up cushions and the debris is all around him and he is in the middle!
  • Overly-excited greetings – an overly boisterous and over-aroused greeting when you return.

Ok, so we know why separation anxiety may develop, and we know what to look out for, but what exactly can we do about it? We can prepare our pups from early on, it’s really the only way. We need to gradually and positively habituate our pups to being on their own. This IS easily done, even if you have a pup who is already showing signs of distress when you are not there.

I cover the prevention of separation anxiety in my 1-2-1’s, however we can briefly look at some top tips to gradual acclimatisation:

  • Rest/sleep area – make sure your pup is well aware of where his sleeping area is, be it a crate, pen or simply a certain area of the kitchen.
  • Start off very gradually – do not attempt to leave your pup for 2 hours to start off with! We’re looking at simply 30 seconds out of the room in the early stages, then building up slowly, ensuring the pup is confident and comfortable all the way.
  • Make sure you leave your pup with something interesting – something which will not only take your pups mind off you leaving, but something he doesn’t normally have randomly throughout the day ie. a stuffed kong, activity ball, chew/bone.
  • No long goodbyes! – as much as we WANT to have a big drawn out ‘I love you I’ll see you soon my baby you be good mummy loves you’……it won’t help with an already slightly anxious pup. A nonchalant attitude is best, ignore your pup for 5-10 minutes before you leave.
  • No big greetings! – similar when coming HOME, don’t make a big song and dance of your return, ignore your pup for a few minutes, get yourself a drink etc and then a calm hello/cuddle etc.
  • Mental/physical exercise – make sure your pup has had an adequate amount of mental and physical exercise prior to you leaving.
  • Music/radio/tv – always have some kind of background noise left on when you are out. Classical music is said to be soothing, or the tv for the sound of voices.
  • Consistency – try to make it a routine, practice all of this daily, don’t start practicing the day before you’re going out, this needs to be built up over the course of weeks/months.

A final note of caution, if you are obtaining your puppy NOW, in the summer (well it’s supposed to be summer!) months, be mindful of when you are all back at work/school and what your routine will be. Try NOW to build up the routine that your pup will have. Do not under any circumstances spend all day every day with your pup over the summer holidays, and expect he will cope just fine when everybody disappears to school/work in September. Start routinely leaving him every day now, it will pay off come September and with the correct preparation as detailed above, your pup will see you leaving as not only a nice thing because he gets something fun he doesn’t have all the time, but a completely normal and routine procedure.

As with any behaviour, if you feel it is going beyond the realms of ‘normal puppy behaviour’ please seek your vets advice. There are indeed medications to help with severe anxiety and your vet will be able to talk to you through these and discuss the best course of action.

It is essential your pup is shown how to relax and feel fairly comfortable when being left. Separation anxiety in adult dogs is not only hugely stressful for the dog, it is a huge problem for us, the owners, too. Be sure to start setting your pup up NOW to view being left as a positive and relaxing experience.

For more information just get in touch!
Instagram: @cambridgepuppytraining

Puppy barking! – Cambridge Puppy Training

puppy barking

Barking is a very normal and useful part of canine communication, it serves many purposes for a dog and is one of the key ways in which a dog will express their emotions about any given situation. However, as normal as it is, it can become a problem, quickly. Dogs may bark when someone rings the door bell, or due to excitement in play, these may not be such a problem to us however when a dog incessantly barks, it can cause big issues for us their owners, and for our neighbours!

Dogs vocalise for a multitude of reasons, there is no ONE reason why a dog will bark, however we can generalise slightly by saying that largely they are communicating something to either us, or each other. Barking can become a ‘self-soothing’ behaviour, for example in shelter situations this can occur, however for the purposes of this article and puppy behaviour, we can assume that your pups are not isolated for most of the day therefore not barking in this way!

So why do dogs bark? Here’s a few possibilities:

  • alert/guard barking – door bell rings, someone unfamiliar approaching the house etc
  • excitement barking – upon seeing/playing with friends, when you arrive home etc
  • fear/anxiety – other dogs, people, anything seen as a PERCEIVED threat
  • reactivity barking – often seen in on-lead reactivity, at anything within the environment ie. dogs, people, bikes etc
  • boredom – as simple as it sounds! Not enough activity, physical or mental will result in a bored dog!
  • demand barking – as simple as it sounds again! Vocalising to gain something, ie. food, walk, game, or simply attention

There are more, but this is just a small list of the common reasons behind vocalising of any sort. The one we are looking at today is demand barking. It is MUCH more common than you may realise and will often present itself during those early juvenile months.

Demand barking is SO easily developed because to begin with, it ISN’T demand barking, it’s simply a small amount of vocalising. Our little pup barks, we either pick him up or put our hands down saying ‘shhhhh calm down’ etc, and suddenly we have reinforced that barking. We have shown our pups that if you make that sound, you get lots of attention from me. Or, we try to work out what it is they are demanding and offer a plethora of goodies! Oh is he hungry? Let’s offer some food. Oh is he bored? Let’s play a game. Oh is he tired? I’ll give him a cuddle. And thus demand barking is born. It’s SO so easy for this behaviour to develop.

Demand barking is difficult to tackle, because largely we simply can’t ignore it. Shouting at your pup will not work as at best he will think you are joining in and thus find it reinforcing, and at worst you will cause distress and ruin the bond you are aiming to build at this young age. So, how CAN we deal with demand barking?

I offer advice regarding barking in many contexts during my 1-2-1’s, however let’s go over some general advice regarding demand barking and ways to tackle it:

1. Why is the dog barking – first and foremost, look at the context in which the vocalising occurs. If you can not pinpoint WHY and WHEN the barking occurs you can not tackle it.
2. What kind of barking is it – what we may see as demand barking may not be so, again look at the context of the bark, dogs do bark and it’s not always a bad thing!
3. If you find it IS demand barking – can you ignore it? Are you in a position to be able to ignore it? If yes, make sure above all else you do not ignore for 20 mins, and then cave and interact with your pup. Next time, your pup will bark for 25 mins! If you’re going to use extinction (removal of reinforcement until the behaviour ceases) then be sure you 100% stick to it at ALL times (this is not easy to do!).

Now we come to the tricky bit, most of us can’t use extinction because we have neighbours! And probably a headache by this point. What a lovely world we would live in if we could ignore barking, however it’s just not the case. So what can we do?

Here’s some tips:

  • Ensure adequate mental and physical exercise is provided – a tired, fulfilled dog is less likely to display this behaviour. Ensure exercise requirements are met, and ensure the brain is being used to it’s full capacity every day! (Be mindful of exercise limitations with puppies).
  • Remove yourself – take yourself out of the situation, removal of YOU is in itself a negative consequence, return/interact only when your pup is quiet.
  • Teach a ‘quiet’ cue – some teach their dog to ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ on cue, believing the ‘quiet’ can then be used when needed.
  • Scent work – try some scatter feeding every day, or some interactive games where they need to sniff out treats, scent work can be tiring, fun and hugely fulfilling for a dog!
  • Ask for an incompatible behaviour – if you ask for a ‘sit’, or a ‘down’, you may gain attention and focus and the dog may stop barking, however a dog can still sit and bark! If possible, try to ask for an incompatible behaviour BEFORE the barking starts. For example ‘touch’, ‘hold’ a toy, a dog can not bark and perform these behaviours at the same time.
  • Teach a ‘settle’ cue – encouraging calm passive behaviours from an early age will help in keeping a pups excitement level low, limiting over-stimulating activities is a good idea!
  • Teach a ‘bed’ cue – asking your pup to DO something is beneficial, we may ask for a ‘quiet’ and that may work well, but if we just then ignore our pup they will likely continue afterwards!
  • Sleep – ensure your pup is getting enough sleep!
  • Capture good behaviour! – we leap on our pups when they do something we don’t like, and ignore them when they are polite and performing well! If your pup is settled, relaxed and laying down, reward that.

The main thing is to NOT reinforce it, ever. It’s difficult, very difficult. Prevention is always better than cure so set your pup up to succeed, make sure you are left with something to reinforce. Try to work out approximate times of day your pup is more likely to demand bark, it will usually be at a certain time so prepare for these time! Prepare a stuffed kong for your pup in his crate, cut up some tiny treats to scatter, prepare some interactive toys, go on a nice walk, plan ahead and don’t wait for the barking to begin before deciding how to tackle it.

It is essential with any demand barking that it is dealt with consistently. If one day we ignore, the next day ask for a ‘quiet’, the next we pick the dog up, we have NO consistency and the barking will continue. The dog will keep seeking reinforcement from barking due to it’s sporadic success! Try and remember interaction isn’t just touching your puppy, it’s eye contact, it’s talking. So, if you are ignoring the barking simply stand up and walk into another room and completely ignore your puppy, don’t look at him and don’t say a word.

Try and remember if a behaviour is reinforced it will likely be repeated, remove reinforcement or ask for a different behaviour that you DO want and you set yourself up for success. Try to prevent it even starting, and if the behaviour does develop set your pup up in situations where he is LEAST likely to perform it, thus giving you something to reward. If dealt with EARLY, it will never become habit. If left, it will progress and be harder reverse later down the line.

For more information just get in touch!