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
- 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:
- escaping behaviour
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!