Noise Phobia

Noise Phobia

Noise Phobia is a term used to describe your dog’s greatly exaggerated fear response to loud noises.

This stress reaction is far out of proportion to the stimulus. Noise-related phobias are common in dogs, and may be trigged by fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, sirens and even bird noises. Things associated with the noise (stimuli) may also come to trigger the symptoms of the phobia or anxiety, such as a change in barometric pressure, an overcast sky or rain being associated with a thunder storm, thus creating an anticipatory anxiety. This makes life for you and your pet quite miserable.

When a dog is afraid, it reacts by:

trying to escape and hiding (avoidance);

acting aggressively (attack); or becoming immobile (if I don’t move maybe you can’t see me).

This is a perfectly normal survival response to a dangerous situation. However fear becomes a real problem when harmless situations cause an excessive reaction. In this process, pets may injure themselves or damage property by digging or chewing. Dogs that have success in escaping may run long distances and become lost, or be hit by a car. Dogs do not outgrow a noise phobia, in fact, the phobia gets worse over time. Although fear and fearful behaviour is a normal part of animal behaviour and helps the animal to survive by causing it to avoid harmful object or situations, some animals may exhibit abnormal fears or exaggerated responses to harmless objects or situations.

Signs of Dog Noise Phobia

  • Urinating or defecating (house-soiling)
  • Pacing Hiding in small places and/or getting stuck
  • Trying to jump out of windows or otherwise escape through security gates
  • Seeking out the owner (Velcro dog)
  • Barking/Whining
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Chewing and damage to teeth
  • Drooling
  • Panting
  • Flatulence
  • Trembling
  • Digging and damage to nails & paws

Milder symptoms may become exaggerated after repeated exposure to the phobia stimuli or trigger. The symptoms may present immediate physical danger to the dog, for example where a fleeing dog was hit by a car. Signs of a problem usually come to the fore before 5 years of age but it can be as late as 11 years of age or so. When ever there is a change in behaviour, your pet should be seen by a veterinarian for a health check. Once medical problems have been excluded as a cause of the behaviour, treatment for noise phobia can begin. Dogs are often more fearful when they are alone than when they are with their owners, sporadic destructive behaviour or house soiling that occurs in the owners’ absence may not be recognised as evidence of a noise phobia at first. The earlier we can intervene, the greater the chance of success.

Common problem noises

  • Thunderstorms – Thunder, Lighting/Static Electricity & Rain
  • Fireworks
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Construction Noises
  • Gunshots & Sirens

Treatment options for Noise Phobia While it may not always be possible to remedy/cure noise phobia/anxiety completely, effective management of the symptoms and associated dangers and discomforts are possible through a variety of methods (each with its’ own effectiveness in a particular pet). A realistic goal is one of improvement, not complete resolution. Noise phobias can be managed most successfully through a combination of behavioural modification (training), environmental control and medication. The prognosis or outcome depends on the severity and length of time the dog has had the noise phobia, as well as the amount of time the owner is able to devote to training and environmental management. Thunderstorms are a particular challenge as there are a number of variables involved and some are difficult to replicate during training. The different components include cloud cover, changes in humidity, changes in barometric pressure, rain fall (the sound, sight and smell of it), the flash of lightening (frequency and intensity), static electricity, and thunder (frequency and intensity). None of these occur in a vacuum and they can appear together in many different combinations and intensities. A dog may be able to handle one at a time, but the mix and match may be too much Medication Medicating your dog may not be an appealing idea to you, but often times medication can be a tremendous help. Stress and anxiety (especially panic attacks) inhibit learning, in dogs as well as people. Speak to someone you know that has experienced a panic attack and you will come to understand how the brain just can’t work properly during stress & anxiety. Think about it, how well are you going to learn if you think your life is truly in danger? Your main concern is to escape that danger, be it real or perceived. Same goes for dogs. If anxiety can be decreased, learning can be increased. The key to success is to get the medication into the dog BEFORE there are any behavioural, physical or physiological signs of distress. If you are using once off meds then if there is a greater than 50% chance of a storm, the dog should be medicated.

Natural remedies

▪ DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) is used to mimic those pheromones (aromatic messages) produced by a bitch when she has puppies. The puppy’s specially developed nasal organs carry this message to the brain. The brain stores this pheromone memory and decodes it as a safe environment, thus helping the relaxation process. This comes in a plug-in diffuser and a collar form

▪ NUTRICALM is a natural mixture of amino acids that help calm anxiety. The capsules can be dosed in food and work for up to 6 hours, taking 30 min to take effect.

▪ ANXITANE is a nutraceutical for the brain. It decreases the frequency of the alpha waves in the visual cortex of the brain. This makes visual stimuli (rain & lightening) less stimulating. It has no side effects and doesn’t cause sedation.

▪ RESCUE remedy can be used for anxiety.

▪ CANINE HERBAL CALMER is also used to reduce anxiety.


▪ SELECTIVE SEROTONIN RE-UPTAKE INHIBITORS (SSRI) and TRICYCLIC ANTI- DEPRESENTS (Prozac, Amitriptyline; Clomipramine; Fluoxetine).These drugs cause an increase in the serotonin levels in the brain, producing a calming effect. This class of drugs is normally taken for a period of months or years. The positive effects of these medications are seen after taking them daily for 4-6 weeks.

▪ BENZODIAZEPINES (Diazepam; Valium; Alprazolam).These are anti-anxiety medications that start to work in about 30-45 minutes after dosing. These can be used on an as needed basis, but can also be used daily until the SSRI’s kick in.

▪ ANXITANE is a nutraceutical for the brain. It decreases the frequency of the alpha waves in the visual cortex of the brain. This makes visual stimuli (rain & lightening) less stimulating. It has no side effects and doesn’t cause sedation.

▪ PHENOTHIAZINES (ACP or Acepromazine) THIS DRUG IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF NOISE PHOBIA. This is a sedative and doesn’t have anti-anxiety properties. It makes the owners feel better because their dog cannot display anxious behaviour. The dog’s brain is still experiencing all of the stress and anxiety that the noise phobia brings, but his body can’t show it. Plus this medications actually heightens sensitivity to noises. You DO NOT want to use drugs that cause sedation, so that your dog can function and be able to hide and escape if he feels he needs to. He also still needs to be able to learn and can’t do this when in a sleepy state. Many people are against the use of medication, but it really does help. When your pet is in such a huge panic from the fear of a noise, it is very difficult to concentrate and therefore learn anything new. That is why medication is often used for the first 3-6 months after a diagnosis has been made. Once the dog has been trained (see below) to cope with the noise better, the meds can often be tapered off and stopped completely. Only about 10% of patients have to continue on meds for the rest of their lives. For our South African Storm and Firework season, we often have to medicate from September to March due to the unpredictable nature of storms and the uncontrolled used of fireworks. Most of the drugs listed above need a few days of dosing to get the correct therapeutic blood levels, so cannot just be given on the day and work effectively. If you are to give any drugs once off, these drugs must be given before your dog senses the storm or the fireworks begin. Please try and plan ahead especially as these drugs are schedule 5 (controlled substances) and higher and cannot just be given to you over the counter. Your pet will have to have been seen by a vet within the last 6 months and if not you will need to take your pet into the vet for a check-up BEFORE these drugs can be dispensed. Since these drugs are metabolised by the liver and excreted by the kidneys a chemistry profile (blood tests for liver and kidney health) should be run first before starting any medications, especially in older animals. Many of these medications are not specifically available in veterinary formulations, but may still be prescribed by a veterinarian as an extra-label drug, where you have to give written permission to use the human drug in your pet. Side effects, drug interactions and allergenic sensitivities are all possibilities whenever you administer a drug to your pet, so if you have any concerns, discuss this with your vet. Medication is more effective when used in combination with behavioural changes/training and environmental changes Training, including

Desensitization & Counter-conditioning

Different forms of training and behaviour modification may reduce or eventually – with much patience – eliminate the symptoms or sources of a dog’s noise anxiety. It is however, important neither to punish, nor directly comfort your dog when they are exhibiting symptoms of noise anxiety. Punishment may increase the fear associated with the scenario and is both inhumane and ineffective. These dogs are in a state of extreme fear and panic, they are not purposely trying to destroy things. Comfort may reinforce the behaviour as the attention may be interpreted as a reward for the abnormal behaviour which will only reinforce the animal’s fear. Desensitisation involves the introduction and gradual increase of the anxiety-causing stimuli in order to reduce the dog’s stress response. The dog is trained to be calm when confronted with very low volume levels of recordings of the source of the fear and is then rewarded when it doesn’t react fearfully. The volume level is then incrementally increased (very slowly increase the scale of intensity), allowing the dog to maintain a calm that can eventually extend to a full, normal experience of the noise. DO NOT increase the volume too fast. You cannot go too slowly, but you can very easily go too fast. This training method is more successful in dogs than cats, but still requires at least a weekly training session for the lifetime of the dog. Commercial CDs for the express purpose of dog noise desensitization are available. It is not possible to start a desensitization program during the summer months since the regular thunderstorms will interfere with the program. The programme will take a minimum of 4 weeks to work through, often much longer. ▪ Desensitization takes time. If you are not prepared to be patient, it will never work. This is not a quick fix, so don’t think you can sort this problem out in a day or two. Every dog is different and each one will take its own time to get used to the sounds. The more fearful or phobic the dog is, the longer it is likely to take. ▪ Get the best CD you can. It needs to be of good quality and be specially designed to replicate the noises in a steady stream. Continuous noise works far more effectively than a CD with gaps in the noises. Best one recommended is called “Sounds Scary” and contains 2 CDs one of fireworks and gunshots and the other with the noise of rain, hail and thunderstorms. ▪ If your dog is very fearful of fireworks, you will often find that he is also frightened of thunderstorms and other noises that sound similar to the bangs of fireworks. So it is useful to desensitize him to those other sounds as well. “Sounds Scary” comes with a 30 page booklet with information on fears and phobias as well as very detailed instructions to systematically desensitise your dog. This is the very essence of the programme. The instructions must be followed to the letter for the programme to work properly. ▪ Your sound system speakers should be placed near the windows or doors, as this is the direction that the real sounds come from. It is also important to change the times that you play the CD so that your dog does not associate a particular time of day with the noise. For best effect, the CD should be played for around 10 minutes for 3-4 times a day. ▪ You need to start the CD at a volume level that does not produce any fear response at all. Your dog needs to be calm and relaxed to begin with. You should set the volume at the very lowest level and VERY SLOWLY increase the volume just until you see your dog’s ears start to twitch. Reward relaxation/no/less response with praise and a food treat. If your dog is not accepting the food treat, he is too stressed and the intensity of the stimulus needs to be decreased. This is the level you start the programme at. Only once your dog is completely relaxed at this level of sound can you then increase it very slightly. You can repeat this process gradually building the level of sound over the next few weeks. If at anytime your dog starts to seem anxious, you must go back to the previous level and work with that level for a few more days. ▪ When your dog no longer reacts to the sound when played at a moderate level, you have completed the first part of the programme. The second part is counter conditioning. Counter conditioning in contrast to desensitization, attempts to connect the fear stimulus with positive associations. This stage is equally important as the desensitisation. This is where you are going to change your dog’s emotions, so that he associates loud sounds with a pleasant experience. Treats, a favourite toy, activity of choice, are presented prior to and following the stimuli e.g. a thunderstorm. With repeated reinforcement, the dog should eventually come to associate the noise with a positive experience and be undaunted by future occurrences. It can teach them to associate the “bad” stimulus with something “good”. ▪ This time, set your CD ready to play again at a very low sound, but, do not switch it on until you have some food, a toy, or are ready to play a game. Wait until your dog is calm and relaxed before starting. ▪ Set the CD to play, and as soon as you hear the sound, give your dog the food, or start the game. As soon as your dog stops eating or you stop the game, you must turn the sound off. ▪ Repeat this exercise many times over, until your dog starts to look excited when he hears the sounds. ▪ You can gradually increase the level of the sounds and then repeat the process at each level. Reward relaxation/no/less response with praise and/or a food treat. If your dog is not accepting the food treat, he is too stressed and the intensity of the stimulus needs to be decreased. ▪ For thunderstorms, once the sound components have been dealt with, it is time to move over to the visual side of a storm, namely lightening and rain. A camera flash or strobe light can be used as lightening. Start in a different room and flash once. Reward the calm behaviour. Slowly start to increase the frequency of the flashes and then the intensity (bring it closer to the dog – but never right in the dog’s face). As you begin to move closer, start with one flash, then slowly increase the number of flashes at a distance. Next is the visual component of rain. All you need is a window, garden hose and a helper (human type). Have your dog sit far away from the window as someone “makes it rain”, reward calmness and gradually bring your dog closer to the window. Once your dog has been desensitised and counter conditioned to the individual components, it’s time to repeat the process with combinations. Start with two of the combinations that he reacts less to, and build up on that. Switch them up and desensitise to as many combos as you can. After this combine 3 things and keep building in this manner. Training, in contrast to other remedies, often requires a large dedication of time at regular intervals. Some dogs may require the training routine to be extended for their entire lifetime to effectively manage the symptoms of noise anxiety. The use of a veterinary behaviour therapist will give you the expert help you need and guide you through this process and give you detailed advice specific to your situation every step of the way. Most dog trainers can help in this area too but may be prohibitive in cost. Finally some dogs (about 25%) show little-to-no response from training of any duration. In contrast, it is sometimes possible to train one’s own dog without the hiring of a trainer or purchasing of products, and most dogs may respond very well to training. Common training mistakes and failures include: ▪ Rushing through the programme and not following instructions completely and fully. ▪ Playing the CD in the same room at the same time each day instead of at various times and places. ▪ Starting the CD too loudly because the owner couldn’t hear it – watch your dogs reaction – their hearing is generally much better than ours. Exercise and nutrition Vigorous exercise and good nutrition may contribute to a reduction of noise anxiety, along with general stress. An increase in the amount of physical exertion on days where the fear response is expected to occur can tire and relax the dog physically and mentally, as well as produce serotonin, which can act in the capacity of a natural sedative. High protein diets have been linked to some behavioural problems in dogs. A visit to your vet may yield dietary advice able to play at least a small role in reduction of the dog’s anxiety symptoms.

Changing the immediate environment of your pet There are a variety of methods that try to insulate your dog from the sound. Providing a crate that is covered with a heavy blanket and placed in a room that is away from windows (or at least not facing windows) is especially helpful for noise-phobic dogs that attempt to hide. Alternatively you can place the dog in a bright room with the curtains drawn. Stay with your dog and ignore the outside noises. Act as you normally would and praise them if they do the same. Playing a recording of music that contains deep percussive tones or the TV very loudly may mask the fear-evoking sound. Some dogs can actually be taught, using desensitising techniques, to wear earplugs and/or an eye cover (Calming caps). For earplugs, a rolled up piece of cotton wool can be fitted into the ear but always make sure that you remove it as soon as the noise has stopped. Anything left in the ear can set up a nasty infection. A pressure or body wrap or thunderbands have been developed from the human theory that constant pressure on the body is relaxing for anxiety in autism. The “T-Touch” technique by Linda Tellington- Joness is designed as a way of relaxing and training horses and, has been adapted for dogs. Prevention It is unknown whether noise phobias can be prevented through early training and management. In general it is wise to expose a puppy in a positive and controlled way to a variety of stimuli and environments during it’s socialization period (3-6 months of age, but the critical period is 4-14 weeks old) to increase the likelihood that the animal will be comfortable in a variety of situations when it is an adult. There is some evidence that noise phobia can be genetic (appears in family lines) and can be learnt by puppies from their nervous mother. If you have a very nervous dog then training and/or meds as early as possible in the dogs’ life is essential to prevent the phobia from getting worse. Consult with your vet as soon as the problem appears, to prevent it from becoming a huge issue for you and your dog. Good Luck “Disclaimer: Please remember that these notes are to help with understanding and explaining a certain topic. If you have any concerns over the health of your pet, please consult your veterinarian immediately – Thanks” REFERENCES;; Fact Sheet Noise phobias (2655090) © VETSTREAM (Coutts Veterinary surgery); handle-noise-phobia-dogs/; http//

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