Noise Sensitivity in Dogs

My dog is scared of loud noises. During the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, he spends his time cowering and shivering in the bathtub. I don’t know what to do for him to make him more comfortable.

Sensitivity to noise is fairly common and the best way to avoid it is to expose your young puppy (2-16 weeks) to many different things, including loud noises – in a safe, unscary way.  This is the critical socialization period for dogs when they learn about the world.  Once this time has passed, it is more difficult for a dog to adjust to unknown things.

You can, however, desensitize an adult dog to noise.  I would recommend that you list the noises that frighten your dog in order of priority; this would take into account how often the noise happens and how it affects your dog.

Once you’ve put the noises in order of importance, to make sure this program will work, make sure Chloe is not exposed to the  noise you’re working on except when you have control of the situation. This means training BEFORE the 4th of July, New Year’s Eve or thunderstorm season!

Now that you’ve got everything in place, begin exposing your dog to the noise at a very low level — so low that it doesn’t frighten Chloe at all.  You must be very aware of Chloe’s body language.  If you see her ears go back, she tucks her tail or looks at all frightened, you must lower the volume.  To speed the process along, you can hand feed Chloe while the noise is happening; not only will your dog not pay as much attention to the noise because she’s eating, but she will also begin to associate the noise with her food.  As long as she’s not scared of the noise, this is a good thing; if your dog is scared of the noise, she may begin to associate her food with the scary thing.

This is the very best way to help your dog get over their fear of noises.  I would recommend that you spend 30 minutes or longer per session and do at least one session each day.  At first it will take a long time and you may not see actual results for a while, but once you do they will happen very quickly.

As for the 4th of July and other scary times, if there’s any way you can remove Chloe from the vicinity of the fireworks, do so.  If not, play music or the TV to cover the sounds (as long as Chloe isn’t afraid of these noises), put her in her favorite spot.  If Chloe must be exposed to these noises, don’t begin your desensitization program until after the 4th.  Then you can begin working on it for next year!  You can either tape the noises yourself, or you can buy tapes with specific noises on them (http://www.legacycanine.com/store/index.html).

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.