BOOM! POW! BANG! These sounds may evoke exciting feelings of 4th of July
celebrations and other summertime fun; however, those same sounds may be a source of fear for Fido. Canine noise aversion (a.k.a. noise anxiety, noise reactivity, or noise phobia) is a medical condition in which sounds cause fearful and anxious behaviors. Common noise aversion triggers, anxious behaviors, and possible treatment options are listed below!
Noise aversion triggers:
- Home appliances
Examples of anxious behaviors:
- Pacing or restlessness
- Panting when it’s not hot and there wasn’t recent exercise
- Ears back
- Repeated yawning
- Trembling and shaking
- Seeking out family (i.e. clingy behavior)
- Vocalizing (i.e. whining, crying, barking)
Anxiety is a progressive disorder. Without treatment, these more harmless signs of anxiety can progress to escape attempts and destructive behaviors. Predictable noises can be addressed with situational treatment. However, unpredictable triggers will need chronic treatment.
- Avoid noise triggers. If the trigger cannot be avoided, lessen the intensity of the noise by going to a more quiet area, playing background noise (i.e. TV or radio), or even using canine headphones designed to reduce sound (Yes, they actually exist).
- Pheromones and supplements. For optimal results, talk to your veterinarian about products whose efficacy is backed by scientific evidence. Examples include Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) and Zylkene.
- Create a safe zone. When your dog is afraid, she should have a safe place to go like a kennel, bathroom, or bedroom. This area should have bedding, water, and even some toys. Bonus for enrichment toys like treat-filled Kongs for your dog to chew.
- A Thundershirt (or similar) is a vest that applies gentle and constant pressure, which can be soothing.
- Thunderstorm parties. If your dog has thunderstorm anxiety, do indoor things that your dog loves! Playing fetch, nosework, or other favorite activities will help redirect your dog’s attention from the storm to playtime.
- Training. Moderate to severe noise aversions will benefit from training. Your vet can develop an individualized program to desensitize and counter-condition your dog’s anxieties. In severe cases, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary behavioral specialist.
- Prescription medication. Several prescription medications for both short-term and long-term use can help reduce anxiety. If a long-term anti-anxiety medication is prescribed, your veterinarian may want to perform some laboratory tests before beginning treatment and occasionally throughout to monitor for side effects. Be advised – medication is not a cure-all! Some medications take weeks or even months to become effective. In addition, training is still needed for moderately to severely anxious dogs.
When our pets are distressed, we want to soothe them. However, some of our soothing behaviors actually reward or reinforce anxious tendencies. Act as normally as you can. If your dog cannot be distracted, it is definitely time to seek out veterinary attention.
- Punish anxious behaviors. Understandably, punishment can make your dog more anxious or even cause him to become aggressive.
- Give your dog supplements without approval from your veterinarian. There are a variety of supplements out there. Although your veterinarian may not be familiar with all supplements on the market, she can still evaluate the product for possible and inadvertent toxicity.
- Force your dog into a kennel. If your dog is not kennel-trained or is forced into a “safe place,” additional anxiety may result.
- Provide an opportunity for escape. Anxious dogs can flee if there is a loud noise. When outdoors, please make sure your dog is leashed and cannot escape a fence. When indoors, take precautions to keep your dog from bolting outside.
As with any illness, treatment is most effective in the early stages of the problem. Please don’t wait until your dog escapes from the home or accidentally harms himself. Your veterinarian can help develop a plan that suits all family members – human and furry. Don’t forget to check in to let your veterinarian know how things are going. As always, AERC is here to help for 24/7 emergencies, including holidays!