Noise Phobia in Dogs

08/30/2010

Noise phobia is an excessive fear of a sound that results in the dog attempting to avoid or escape from the sound. It's an irrational, intense and persistent fear response that can develop at any age and in any dog breed.

Trying to escape from the noise, a dog's normal instinctive behavior is to seek shelter to avoid danger. But things can go awry when dogs overreact to sounds that don’t represent danger.

Characteristic behavior can include but may not be limited to hiding, urinating, defecating, chewing, drooling, panting, pacing, trembling, shaking, and barking. A fearful dog might seek out his human family; try to escape the noise by jumping through windows or chewing through walls, and running away.

There are no hard and fast figures on how many dogs suffer from noise phobia. However, according to the American Animal Hospital Association and their national web conference on managing separation anxiety, 40 percent of dogs with noise phobia also experience separation anxiety.

The most common causes of noise phobia are fireworks and thunderstorms, but dogs may develop a fear of any sound no matter how inconsequential. Even a squeaky door being opened, someone using a fly swatter, or a fan being turned on can provoke a reaction from a noise-phobic dog. And, the more exposure a dog has to a frightening noise, the more intense his phobic response is likely to become.

Although we don't know why some dogs sleep through loud noises; others panic. This is in part genetic and part learned behavior.

Veterinarians recommend a health check-up for dogs experiencing a noticeable change in behavior. There are several medical conditions that could aggravate a dog's anxious and panicky behavior that need to be ruled out first. If your veterinarian determines that your dog has a behavior problem, ask your veterinarian if he/she has a PhD in animal behavior. If not, contact a board certified veterinary behaviorist in your area (see resources for finding a veterinary specialist).

Although there is no cure for noise phobia, treatment approaches include behavior modification, environmental controls and drug therapy, almost always included in the treatment where moderate to severe fears are present. Medication can include several different classes of drugs that include anti-anxiety, antidepressants and tranquilizers to alleviate a dog's fear response.

Effective treatment for dogs prone to flee from fearful sounds can be as simple as offering them refuge in a pet crate covered with a heavy blanket as a partial sound barrier. If the dog is afraid of thunderstorms, bring the dog inside and turn on an appliance or television, or play music to override the noise.

Dogs are pack animals and look to you, the pack leader, for guidance and reassurance. Adopt an easy-going manner and remain calm in the face of your dog's fear and anxiety.

For example, sounds that range from mild to severe can include loud, angry words, breaking glass, thunderstorms, firecrackers and gunshots. Becoming sound sensitive to loud noises can develop after a single clap of thunder that can morph into a full-blown phobia or may evolve gradually over a protracted period of time.

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