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Veterinary Medicine

CSU pet behavior column: Loud noise phobia

July 15, 2011
Jennie Willis

Crash! Bang! Pop! Cap guns, fireworks and thunder--these are the sounds of summer.

dogWith the height of thunderstorm season still to come, I figured a good place to start off would be with giving some tips to help dogs who are afraid of loud noises.  

Why do dogs respond with panic when they hear these sounds anyway? Well, not all dogs do. In the brain, there are cells that are pre-programmed to respond with intensity to all loud sounds. Every time a loud sound is heard, the animal gets the same degree of information. The message screams: “Loud!  Scary!!” 

Another part of your dog’s brain then decides what to do with that information. It’s that part of the brain that says “Run!” or “Stay calm, it’ll be alright.”

It is at this point your dog’s brain determines whether he holds it together, startles reasonably and recovers quickly, or jumps the fence, breaks a window or hides in the bath tub.  

When your dog hears a loud noise, it is not the same with softer sounds, which he can tune out – just like you tune out ceiling fan or dishwasher sounds. Sharp, loud sounds can’t be tuned out.

We sometimes see this problem develop at mid-life, when the dog may have been “fine” as a puppy.   

Helping your dog through his fear

What can you do?  If you know you have a dog that panics, or if you have just adopted a dog you are not sure about, try these things:

  • Leave them inside when you are not home or able to supervise. Loud sounds can happen at any time of day.

  • Create a safe room for them. Often they will already have chosen this room or area when they feel afraid. Allow them access to their chosen room, if possible.

    • Consider a room with few outside windows, and use black-out curtains on existing windows.

    • Add white noise to help damp down external sounds. Leave on an  air purifier, a TV, or a radio  tuned to classical or calming music..

    • Provide bedding, since hard wood floors and hard walls make sounds more noticeable.

    • Add Dog Appeasing Pheromone. DAP can be a wonderful way to make the room feel more comfortable. It is a species-specific calming scent available for purchase as a plug-in.

  • When you are with your dog, and they hear a sound, feed them a treat. Begin to establish a relationship between hearing a sound and feeling good. Scared dogs can’t eat, and dogs that eat can’t be as scared.   

If your dog’s quality of life is affected by this problem, you may need to seek professional help. Dogs can learn to overcome this issue with behavior modification and sometimes medication to help calm them through the summer months. They don’t have to live in fear.

Help keep your pet happy, healthy and safe!

Dr. Jennie Willis is an instructor of animal behavior at Colorado State University and owns a private consulting business, which provides counseling for people and their problem pets.  For more information about consultation, seminars and classes please visit www.AnimalBehaviorInsights.com.


Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: dellrae.moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: 970-491-6009