Alexandra Vets, Clevedon
Some dogs are much more sensitive to noise than others, this is a trait with which they can be born and their subsequent upbringing can influence how they react to noises as they grow up and during adult hood. A traumatic event or episode of being startled or frightened by noise can be the basis of a noise phobia. When the fear experienced at the time is closely associated with the noise heard, this noise becomes the trigger for the fearful behaviour.
The fear response is a relatively normal physiological mechanism, which has a protective function. This fear however can become greatly exaggerated and thus starts to become a phobia, which can be detrimental to the animal’s quality of life. These phobias can then become extended by the dog to other sounds or situations, through a process known as generalisation. Other sounds which have a similar waveform and frequency sound very similar to the animal and thus become incorporated into the collection of noises to which a phobic response is shown. Similarly other situations and noises that precede the feared sound, can become triggers for the phobic response and thus the thunder phobic animal becomes fearful of high humidity, heavy rain or even dark cloudy skies.
Most dogs that have a noise phobia of some sort employ a coping mechanism, when feeling fearful. They often need to hide behind or under furniture or under a blanket. Often if they are allowed access to a small-enclosed space they will use this as a hiding place e.g. a cupboard under the stairs. It is important that dogs are allowed to perform their coping behaviours as part of their way of dealing with their fear. If these escape and hiding behaviours are prevented, we risk the phobia becoming a blind panic, which can lead to destructive behaviour, soiling and possibly self-injury.
There are ways in which these dogs can be helped. Firstly we need to find a way in which to make the noises they are afraid of meaningless. This can be done by use of a sound effects CD which can be used to desensitise the dog to the appropriate sounds. After a period of some weeks, a process of counter conditioning can be started where the sounds become the triggers for a good event such as a meal being given, a treat being given or a game depending on what the dog values most. This will hopefully give these sounds a positive association for the dog.
In the early stages, the effect of the desensitisation can be accelerated by use of anti anxiety products such as a pheromone diffuser or collar or oral treatments which can reduce the stress and give a feeling of well being in the dog, allowing it to cope more easily with any potential threats.
These therapies can also help at the time of the stressful event. Any treatment should be started at least 2 weeks before the phobic event (such as fireworks night) but may still be helpful if started later.
There are now several products available which provide a relaxing effect and help animals to cope with the stress and anxiety caused by loud noises. These work by increasing neurotransmitter levels which promote relaxed behaviour or by mimicking mild sedative effects. There is now also a diet specifically designed to enhance calm behaviour which has proved to be very effective in our experience. We can also provide a prescription medication for severe cases which bring relaxation and also block short-term memory so that by the next day the event is forgotten. This can also be used retrospectively so that if a dog has had a frightening experience the drug can be given shortly after to eliminate the memory of it. This will not treat the underlying problem but will help prevent it getting worse with time.
The owner’s response to the fearful dog also plays an important part. When a dog shows fear it is natural for the owner to try and soothe the dog and fuss it to give reassurance. Unfortunately this increased attention can cause reinforcement of the problem by confirming to the dog that there is a threat present. The best approach is a happy, jolly no nonsense attitude to try and show that there is nothing to be afraid of.
On the occasions when noise phobia occur’s especially fireworks or thunder, the curtains should be drawn and some music played or the TV switched on to prevent flashes being seen and try and mask the quieter noises. Also if possible take the dog for a good walk before darkness falls and then feed a large carbohydrate rich meal 2 hours before the event so that it is more likely to sleep. The dog should be allowed to seek refuge wherever it feels most safe and once the event has passed the normal routine should be returned to as soon as possible.
To get some behaviour tips, or to make an appointment to have Rob spend some time with your pet, give us a call on
Hillyfields Vets, Winscombe
Monday-Friday: 9am – 6pm
Saturday : 9am to 11am
(Hillyfields Vets, Winscombe)
Consultations: 9am – 10.30am
Saturday:11am to 1:30pm
(Alexandra Vets, Clevedon)
Consultations: 12pm – 1.30pm