When Things go Boom – Helping Your Dog Cope with Fear of Loud Noises

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Plenty of dogs are afraid of loud noises. Most dogs don’t mind them, but those who do can be difficult to help.

Fear of loud noises is stressful for your dog and can limit activities your dog can participate in with you. Since he can’t understand a scientific explanation of why these noises won’t harm him, you must find other ways to ease his fears.

Thunder, fireworks, and loud vehicles are probably the most common noise phobia triggers. Dogs’ sensitivity to the changes in barometric pressure can trigger fearful reactions to thunder long before humans even hear it. Pay attention to weather forecasts and schedules of holiday fireworks displays so you can prepare your dog before the ruckus starts.

Here are some ways to help your dog feel safe when things go boom:

1. Before he has a chance to get upset about a noise, distract your dog with a game of fetch or tug. Practice some tricks and/or obedience skills and give nice rewards for focusing on you. If he reaches a point where he can’t focus, stop. Don’t create an unpleasant association with games and behaviors that he normally likes.

2. Reward calm behavior. Don’t wait for your dog to exhibit stress before you give attention. Play calming music or turn on the television; these may help to muffle the sounds.

3. Provide a safe haven for your dog or enhance one that he has chosen himself. Put his crate or bed in it. Give him a very special long-lasting treat or a hollow rubber chew toy that can be stuffed with something good.

4. Leave the crate door open because some dogs will injure themselves trying to get out. If your dog’s fearfulness is so severe that he panics and tries to escape a crate or the house, consult your veterinarian about medication to help your dog. Dogs can be injured or lost in their efforts to get away from frightening noises.
 

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5. If your dog is a puppy, then you have the opportunity to condition him to loud noises early. You can condition your older dog too; just take it very slowly because it might take months to alleviate established fears. Get a helper to drop a book (from a good distance) as you reward and play with the dog. It’s normal if he startles at first. Stay calm and cheerful yourself, give him treats, and he’ll learn that it’s nothing to worry about. The book dropping can get gradually louder as he is less affected by the noise.

6. Play recordings of scary noises at a very low volume while you feed your dog, play favorite games, do anything that she enjoys. Just remember to do these fun things at normal times too, so your dog doesn’t think that they only go with a storm! Gradually increase the volume as your dog feels comfortable. If at any point she is frightened by it, reduce the volume to a level that she tolerates well and start there.

7. Ear muffs specially made for dogs might be helpful. Introduce them to your dog gradually, as you would any new thing. For the first few days, place them near her bowl as she eats. Then put them loosely around her neck for a few minutes while you give her lots of special treats. Over several days (or more, depending on your dog), move gradually to putting them over the dog’s ears, for a few minutes at a time while again giving more good treats. Do this well in advance of the Fourth of July and storm season.

Any calming device, whether it be earmuffs, soft music, or a snug dog shirt, should be occasionally used when the weather is good and your dog is happy. This will help him develop positive associations with them—not just scary ones.

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