Noise phobia in the dog is a very common problem and 25-40% of dogs are affected by some level of sensitivity to noise. It is a fear based response which often becomes progressively worse over time or following a particularly bad storm. This intense episode of terror can cause up to a 200% increase in your dog’s cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Triggered by noise phobia, your dog may try to run away to look for a place that feels safe from the noise, or may cling tightly next to your side following you around, or may disappear and hide, or may destructively rearrange your living room. Physical signs of fear are panting, whining, barking and pacing. More severe stress signs include dilated pupils excessive drooling, paw pad sweating, agitated movements, rapid heart rate and excessive panting. We realize how helpless you can feel when your dog is freaking out during the thunderstorm. (Busy’s biggest trigger is howling wind.)
Try not to just let it happen, we will give you some tools to help you and your dog get through the stressful noise events. Every dog is different and no single item listed works for every dog. If you can do the majority of the things we present here, you may find your summer storm season to be much less stressful! Call if you want assistance we will be happy to help!
Predict the Event
Dogs often start reacting long before you realize the storm is getting close to you.
- They feel the barometric changes and static electricity.
- They see the ominous darkness before the storm and the lightning flashes.
- They hear the thunder long before you can hear it.
- They smell the approaching storm.
That means the best way to help your dog is to predict the storm and to take action before the storm hits. Keep the dog inside (do not leave them outside in the yard) and try to be at home with your dog if at all possible.
Dog Storm Bunker
Develop a storm bunker inside your home for your dog to use for the safe place to go to. Preferably a small central interior space with no windows, in the basement or lowest level in the house, in the quietest place you can find. Put a covered crate in the bunker area and soundproof the area as much as you can. Clothes hanging inside closets help buffer noise. (Busy’s bunker for wind is in her crate covered, inside the car, inside the garage.)
Use white noise to help mask sounds from coming into the area from outside. Turn on a radio, play a recording or use a fan for background noise.
DAP – dog appeasing pheromones – Adaptil is available in several forms, room diffuser, spray, wipes, or collars. You can place a plugin room diffuser inside the storm bunker and spray some DAP on a bandana to place on your dog’s collar. DAP is a synthetic copy of the pheromones a nursing mother dog secretes to calm and reassure her puppies, the pheromones can have a calming effect for adult dogs in stressful situations.
Wrap ‘em in a Snug Hug
Body compression reduces stress which is why hugs can be very comforting, so wrap up your dog in a snug hug. The Thundershirt is a comfortable stretchy snug shirt tightened around your dog’s chest with Velcro. For the dog that responds to the hug, this can be a very helpful way to give them a long lasting hug. We recommend you put the Thundershirt on in advance of the storm whenever possible.
Use a dryer sheet gently over the top of the head, ears, and down their back to help reduce static electricity.
When you need to use them medications can be very helpful in living with the noise phobia dog. Do not be afraid to use them if your dog needs them to be safe. There are some Herbal options, however, be careful what you give to your dog especially if they are taking other medications, talk to your veterinarian because some herbals are unsafe to use in dogs and others may have unknown effects for dogs. Some dogs benefit from Melatonin while other do not respond at all. Some of the specific prescription antidepressants are better for noise phobias than are other drugs. Alprazolam can be used daily during thunderstorm season (benefits are cumulative) but not be sufficient for all dogs. Zoetis has a new drug, Sileo, which is an FDA approved medication indicated for the treatment of canine noise aversion. Sileo is given by mouth at the onset of the dog showing anxiety and fearful response to noise. We see several pet owners that believe this is the best product they have ever tried, but like all other choices it is not the end all answer for every dog.
At a separate time from storm or fearful events there are some training strategies you can work on with your dog that once learned can be very helpful when used during the crisis of the storm. The ideal place to teach these strategies is in the storm bunker so your dog has a very calm and positive association with being there. Zylkene is a milk product in a capsule that we sometimes use during the training to help the dog be more amiable to behavior modification.
Desensitization – we teach classical counter conditioning to help the dog learn to use a different response to a given stimulus. For storms, we quietly and carefully start introducing storm sound recordings while feeding and interacting with the dog so they eventually learn to “tolerate” quiet storm sounds. As tolerance develops we slowly will increase the noise level being careful to stay below your dog’s trigger point – this can take a long time to accomplish. Please give us a call and we can help you put together a training process for your dog.
Calming – practice calming strategies doing whatever you can when your dog is excited, the goal is to calm them and help them to settle down. Learn what it takes for you to give your dog the comfort and attention it needs when stressed. Using treats and massage concentrating on the cheeks, forehead, neck and shoulder can help to induce calmness. Demonstrate calmness to the dog:
- Cradle your dog’s face in both hands and have them look at you.
- Do very long slow deliberate blinks (like falling asleep.)
- Soft smiles.
- Continue to massage the face head and neck.
- Whisper quietly to your dog.
Remember, noise phobias can become a very severe problem, and the dog’s phobic response is physical, emotional, and physiological. Between 25 – 40% of dogs are affected to some extent by thunderstorms. The highest incidence seems to be in the herding breeds. Thunderstorms can be life threatening to the severely phobic dog that crashes through the window or blindly runs away and gets hit by a car.
We cannot cure the fear response in the noise phobia dog, but hopefully we can help provide tools to give both the dog and the pet family a better quality of life. Here is to helping you and your dog to work through those terrifying noisy events!
Have a glorious summer!
Busy, the wind phobia dog.