We can never predict which pups will be noise sensitive. If you ever lived with a noise phobic dog, you know the feeling of helplessness as you watch your pet become more anxious during the noisy season. Here are some tools you can put in your tool box to help prevent noise phobia, minimize the symptoms, and have some basic tools to deal with the problem should it occur.
Tools for the toolbox:
1) Scary things predict food
Anything we can do to help our pups be prepared and not afraid is a good thing. Our plan is to always pair scary things with something really good. The scarier the "thing" the better the treat needs to be.
It is best to keep your dog or pup at home instead of bringing them to a firework display. Their ears are very sensitive and this is a sure way to make them nervous at best, petrified at worst. Be prepared at least a week ahead of time for fireworks as many people start their celebrations a little early. Be sure to have lots of yummy treats on hand. Whenever you hear a boom, promptly toss your dog a treat or treats to the floor. Before long, whenever your dog hears a scary noise they are going to be looking for treats falling from the sky! If there is a place you would like your dog to go during storms or fireworks, you can toss the treats on/in that place.
2) Scary things predict games with toys
For the dogs that are not food motivated, there is still a solution. The trick is to find out what motivates them. Is it a game of tug, chasing a ball, or a squeaky toy? The process is still the same. Loud noises result in a toss of the toy.
3) Doing tricks redirects the dog's attention so they forget there is something scary
Dogs that know some simple tricks such as sit, down or touch can be distracted by performing for you. Practice these "tricks" so they are fun and your dog is always motivated to perform them! These tricks become very handy any time you need to get your dog's attention on you and not on something else.
There are times when you will need to be busy, or are unavailable to work with your dog during these scary events. If your dog is food motivated then using food puzzles and long lasting chew toys will help to keep them distracted. Toy motivated dogs might like to play with puzzle toys.
It is important to practice these skills when it is not storming and scary things are not around. Rehearsals make the performances go very smoothly. If we only practiced these skills during scary events, the routines would start to predict that something scary is about to happen.
Tools for us to practice:
1) Cease "coddling."
It is our nature to want to comfort a scared pet. Many times however we are setting the pet up to be more frightened. Reassuring our pets that it is "okay" when our body language is telling the dog otherwise, inadvertently relays the opposite of what we intend. "Okay" can turn into a cue that means the dog needs to be on high alert, something bad or scary is coming. Think of all the times you might reassure your pet in this fashion: storms, fireworks, car rides, and the veterinary clinic are probably just a few of the places we might tell our pets "It's Okay." Rest assured, if you exhibit calm body language your dog will read this too, without speaking a word. Calm body language in addition to treats is the best way to help your pet feel more comfortable.
2) Cease punishment.
In our attempt to stop an undesirable behavior we may yell or even hit our dogs. It is important to remember the dog is really fearful, just like us it is not something they can just "get over." Punishing your dog is more likely to increase your dog's anxiety and fear, not only toward the feared object but to you as well. Punishment tends to erode the relationship between the dog and its owner.
3) Remain calm.
Dogs are excellent at reading body language. If pictures paint a thousand words, our body language speaks volumes to our pets. We need to breathe deeply and calmly, "walk the walk" and let our dogs know that it truly is "Okay."
4) Less is more when it comes to speaking.
It is best to not say anything except what you really want. Giving a specific direction or rewarding the desired behavior speaks volumes to the dog.
5) Teach your dog is is okay to be away from you.
It is such a gift we can give to our pups that they will be okay if the can self sooth and comfort themselves without us. We all want our dogs to be our best friend and for them to look to us for help, support and comfort. What happens when we are not home to comfort our pet when they are really frightened? Our pets need to know what to do when we are not there. Beds, mats, and crates can all be places of comfort for your pet.
Hopefully, by taking these simple steps, you can help your dog become comfortable around loud noise. Remember the techniques described above and implement them whenever you feel your dog is a little anxious. If your dog is showing any signs of anxiousness in the presence of sounds, contact your veterinarian. It is easier to treat the problem when the symptoms are mild, than when the pet is frantic. An ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure when it comes noise sensitivity.