Not all dogs are as outgoing or as bombproof as I feel they used to be many years ago. I think that fewer puppies are being socialized by pet owners the way they need to be and in the time frame that is demanded so that they are best set up to deal with the loud and obnoxious society that we live in these days.
The need for dog noise anxiety treatment, training, drug therapy, and supplements have almost become the norm.
Noise phobia and noise aversion run rampant in a lot of dogs. I think this condition is sad. Because, again, we live in a very loud, distracting and stressful world. My brother’s yellow Labrador Retriever is a great dog, but he has all kinds of anxiety. We can leave the front door open, and he won’t run out, but it isn’t because he is well trained, it is because he is terrified of going out the front door. I am not sure I have ever seen a dog with agoraphobia. And, I think most dog owners don’t even really notice.
Pet owners are so busy with life, stressors, and the pull of silly things like social media; they don’t take into consideration that their dogs need more of their time, desensitization to weird and noisy things and more socialization.
I must admit, sometimes even I have some noise aversion and social anxiety when I am out and about in public places. After all, I am a very quiet person. But having an aversion to something is definitely different than having a phobia. I have an aversion to liver (the smell, texture, and taste) but I am not terrified of it. Honestly, I often cook it up for use during my dog training appointments.
But unlike man’s best friend, my aversion to loud noises and social anxiety does not turn into fears, phobias, or a need for behavioral medications. I just dislike crowded places.
Fear, for lack of better words and descriptions, sucks. Phobias are terrifying.
Think of what you are most fearful of closed in spaces or “claustrophobia,” spiders or “arachnophobia,” fear of falling or “basophobia,” fear of drowning or “aquaphobia.” The truth is that ninety percent of us humans probably have fears or outright phobias. I can certainly admit to a few of them, so it is common sense that some of our dogs have sound phobia, noise phobia, or anxiety disorders.
I can certainly empathize with dogs that have extreme fears.
After all, even though I know my fears and anxieties are irrational, I still have a difficult time combating or dealing with them. At one point in my life, after my dog died, I suffered from panic attacks and irrational thoughts. Every time I left the house I imagined my other dogs would die. I knew I was crazy, but it didn’t stop the panic attacks and how I felt.
Your dog doesn’t have the mental ability to rationalize and realize his fears are irrational; he just goes with the anxiety he feels within. Most dog owners just don’t understand how differently dogs feel and deal with situations then we as humans deal with situations.
Dog Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders among dogs (and I swear humans) are also running rampant in recent society. I think people are overwhelmed by so much that life now requires. Gone are the days of working one job, making dinner and doing laundry. Most of us have to have three jobs or more just to make ends meet. This means people have less time to spend devoted to their dogs and socializing them the way they demand.
It is sad to watch either, dogs or humans struggle with anxiety, but there are a few things step by step guides we use to help; your dog that is! Many dogs self-mutilate by licking themselves until they bleed or develop other severe obsessive-compulsive behaviors when they suffer from anxiety.
Obviously, preventative medicine is always the best approach.
Prevent your dog from developing noise phobia, social anxiety, and fears.
If you have a puppy, it is critical to socialize him and expose him positively and socialize him to sights and sounds from week 7 to week 16. It is also serious to try to ensure that scary things don’t happen to him during this time. Unfortunately, one horrible experience during this time can affect how your puppy feels about similar incidents.
A friend of mine let some neighborhood kids hold her puppy during this fear stage, and he was dropped. He never really liked kids again.
However, you can control how your dog deals with sound, especially annoying or loud noise.
Because I believe in clicker training, or marker training, and positive reinforcement and I start my puppies early, all I have to do is make a slightly irritating noise, click and reward as long as the puppy doesn’t show fear.
If my puppy shows some fear or apprehension, I try to muffle the noise and continue while laughing, smiling and making light of the situation. Your dog wants to see that you are not scared and that your behavior remains light and happy. If you are not bothered and showing happy human behaviors, the puppy can see that what he thought was scary and might cause fear and anxiety instead is a silly distraction to be ignored.
At my house, I work up from small irritating sounds to sounds that would scare almost any dog. I even string cans together on a rope and attach them to a pole so that while we are playing and training, I can desensitize my dog to noise.
I certainly don’t want a dog that is fearful or shows signs of anxiety when they hear a noise.
After all, I try and take my dogs into many environments, and I cannot control the noises that they might hear. They might be near a gun range and hear gunfire, they might hear a jackhammer while we stroll through the city, or they might encounter the irritating beep of a large truck backing up. I want my dogs to be as bombproof as possible.
So…. I am as LOUD and OBNOXIOUS as possible while tossing them treats and desensitizing them. It is not a far reach to see or hear me banging pots and pans together as I play with and interact with my dogs.
Stop Using Noise As A Correction
I hate old school dog training.
Old school training recommends using loud noises to deter your dog from bad behavior.
For example: if your dog jumps on the counter shake a loud can full of pennies or throw a can full of pennies to teach him that jumping on the counter is scary and bad.
This kind of training creates noise phobia, anxiety disorders, and fear of random noises because the dog doesn’t always conclude that “jumping on the counter” brings the noise. Instead, he just becomes scared and apprehensive of sound.
In my humble opinion, this is barbaric.
I want a dog that is “bomb proof.” I want a dog that doesn’t have a fear of loud noises and doesn’t need anxiety medication like clomipramine.
I like a dog that isn’t a liability when he hears a noise.
In my opinion, loud noises and extreme stimulus should equal my dog’s opportunity to earn a reward by ignoring them and paying attention to me!
If a 44 magnum goes off, or a thunderstorm rattles my home, I want my dog to look to me for reward and not for correction or adding to their sound sensitivity.
I mean, imagine if every time you were scared, you were also corrected physically or pain was added to the situation. This would certainly add to your pain and suffering and anxiety.
Recognize the Signs of Anxiety
Avoid your dog’s suffering by taking note of these signs.
Running or hiding
Aggressive behavior (especially when they are not normally aggressive)
Establish a Safe Place
I like to establish a safe place where my dog can go and feel comfortable.
One of my dogs has EXTREME thunderstorm phobia. He drools, he paces, he whines, and all in all, he feels like he is going to die.
I have actually taught him to crate himself during these times.
He feels safe in his crate.
His crate faces away from the windows so he can’t see the flashes of light that thunderstorms bring.
And, when I am home, I help ease his possible fears by turning up the radio and put on some calming music to drown out other noise sensitivity.
I am always very proud of him when the pressure drops, and he runs and gets in his crate. It tells me I have successfully crate trained him and he feels most comfortable there.
Having a safe place can be crucial for a dog that has anxiety and fear and noise phobia.
Drug Therapy and Supplements
Drug therapy and some supplements can also help to ease your dog’s anxiety.
Some people even swear by things like “Thunder Shirts” or even just a tightly wrapped T-shirt.
Anxiety Leads to Other Negative Behaviors
Anxiety leads to other bad or negative behaviors.
Imagine being anxious all of the time, as a human, anxious behavior can lead to addiction and depression in humans.
Anxious behavior in dogs can lead to obsessive-compulsive behaviors like licking and self-mutilation of your dog’s body. Some dogs will like their feet or skin until they create a bloody skin infection.
Other dogs’ obsessive-compulsive behaviors can lead to eating walls, furniture or ripping up carpet and flooring. None of these things are positive especially if it comes at the expense of your dog’s health and body!
Lessening anxiety is like lessening anxiety and depression in humans and can help a dog’s behavior and help deal with life even if it is sometimes scary. Your dog’s suffering and preventing it is critical to their and your happiness.
Symptoms of Noise Phobia
There are noise sensitivities, noise fears, and noise phobias.
If I have a fear, it is scary; but if I have a phobia, it is debilitating.
For instance, if I have arachnophobia, I am scared of spiders. If a spider comes into my space, I am scared, but I can get some bug spray or some kind of cleaner (like bleach) that will kill the spider, use the bug killer and then I can move on with my life.
If I have extreme arachnophobia and fear, I can’t even deal with the thought of getting close enough to the spider to kill it or deal with it. I may have to contact someone else to come in and deal with the spider or the premises. The fear is literally debilitating. I am basically unable to function.
Understand the difference? You can deal with one, even if it is difficult but the other you can’t deal with alone.
You need to figure out which dog you have. Fear of loud noises or fear and anxiety and debilitating suffering from loud noises? And, I would recommend not to go with your emotions. Most pet owners hate to see their dogs have any fears at all. But the truth is that we all have fears, and most of us work through them. So give your dog the ability to become strong and work through his basic fears.
After all, I used to be afraid of the dark when I was a kid. But my parents kept making me sleep alone, and they turned the lights out and eventually I was able to overcome your fear. You can’t save your dog from EVERY fear. Let him gain strength in working things out.
If, however, the fear is debilitating and he can’t breathe, can’t move or can’t function; consider talking to your veterinarian about behavioral medications or supplements.
Medications don’t work alone when dealing with problem behaviors, aggression, or fears. And, often behavior modification alone will also not be as helpful.
But behavior modification with certain behavioral medications can make a huge difference in making improvements with both fear and anxiety and aggression. And, a boarded veterinary behaviorist can be integral in recommending the right medications, supplements and form a baseline for behavior modification.
Without behavior modification and possible drug therapy, anxiety and fear can lead to anxiety disorders, problem behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and extreme destructive behaviors.
So please do your pets a favor and don’t ignore their fears.
I have seen dogs break windows to try and escape when they are terrified (another reason I like a safe place and a safe crate).
Do your best to help your best friend overcome his noise anxiety and if you can’t come up with the perfect treatment on your own, call your local veterinary behaviorist for help!
You can both feel better about life, once you learn to conquer some fear and anxiety.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.