Happy Pet: Dogs That Fear Noises

Some dogs sleep through thunder, fireworks and other unexpected loud noises, like a vacuum cleaner. Many dogs, however, overreact to the same sounds or even panic at seemingly inconsequential disturbances, like a squeaky door or a flyswatter.

Sensitivity to sound or noise phobia is a fairly common problem. Dogs of all breeds are susceptible, although noise phobia occurs more frequently in herding breeds.

There is a genetic component to the problem. Offspring with a noise-phobic parent is predisposed to the condition but may deal with noise in a perfectly normal manner.

Experts agree there is no single cause for noise phobia. The fearful reaction to a sound may be associated with a certain occurrence in a dog's life in which loud noises played a role.

A puppy that is not exposed to a certain noise, like thunder, during the critical socialization period - between 4 to 14 weeks old - may feel traumatized upon hearing thunder at a later age. Some dogs are simply timid and may be startled by unexpected loud sounds.

In other cases, there is no obvious trigger.

A fearful noise phobic dog may seek out his human companion for comfort.

Others react to loud noises with excessive panting, drooling, hiding, pacing, tremors, whining, urinating or barking.

In extreme cases, a dog may try to escape the noise by chewing through walls, jumping out of windows or running away.

Remember that dogs are pack animals, and your pet views you as alpha or leader of the pack. It will take its cues from you; so, stay calm.

A normal reaction on your part will be to comfort a frightened dog with pets and kind phrases like, "You're OK." That is exactly what you should not do because your dog associates these actions with good behavior.

Your attempt to comfort reinforces its reaction to noise as a good behavior.

That doesn't mean you should not touch your dog. Allow it to lean on you, put gentle continuous pressure on it with your hands or wrap it in a commercially available thundershirt to give it a sense of security. Pleasant sounds, like the TV or soothing music, may calm a pet by distracting its attention from the disturbing noise. In severe cases, consult your veterinarian, who may prescribe medication to calm your dog during periods of distress.

Don't plan to cure noise phobia. It will not go away. Set a realistic goal of decreasing your dog's reaction to noise.

Storm season and July 4 may be difficult for noise-phobic dogs. Be understanding. Remain calm, keep your pet calm, and remember this too shall pass.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at HolisticTouchTherapy.com