Understanding and Treating Noise Phobia in Dogs

381019_226654610743816_1997555007_nSpring has finally sprung, and with spring comes thunderstorms, followed shortly after with summer and Independence Day fireworks. What do these events have in common? Well, your dog may be afraid of both of them.

Dogs have sudden and profound reactions to noise, such as a firework or a loud clap of thunder. They may be victims of noise phobia. The reactions can be intense, such as plowing through a door to escape, or reactions might be less noticeable, like freezing up or hiding under a table. Both kinds of reactions can be serious, as it indicates suffering and could be damaging nerves. Other symptoms include drooling, chewing, panting, barking, trembling, digging, urinating, defecating, or pacing.

If left untreated, a dog’s normal fear of loud noises can escalate to a pathological fear, meaning the dog may begin to feel every loud noise is a reason to panic. It’s important to work on treating a dog’s noise phobia as soon as possible, before the anxiety worsens and becomes even more difficult to treat.

The first part of treatment involves finding out what calms your dog, followed by eliminating the negative reaction to the noise. The amount of training that is necessary depends on the dog and the intensity of the fear.

Remember not to punish or reward the dog after he/she reacts to loud noise. Punishing the dog will only increase the fear, while rewarding the dog will reinforce the behavior and confuse the dog. Many people are tempted to pet their dog, but petting can be interpreted as a reward and will reinforce his/her panic and anxiety. Petting can also become another element that causes anxiety.

Behavior modification or behavior training has been very successful for noise phobia in dogs. The training generally involves desensitization, counter-conditioning, or a combination of both.

Desensitization involves playing the noises the dog is afraid of at a low level to begin with and then gradually increasing to a higher intensity until the dog is able to handle the most severe noises. Counter-conditioning rewards the dog for not having a reaction to noise stimuli, usually with a food treat that will also distract the dog while the noises are being played.

It is always best to consult with a professional before attempting to treat your dog yourself. Treating your dog yourself could potentially worsen the problem.