We get weekly inquiries about calming products for dogs, but there are a lot of things you can do for a dog that is fearful of noises that can help those calming products work much better! A University of California, Davis study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science suggests that common household noises may be stressful for dogs and owners may not realize it. Most pet parents are aware that sudden loud noises, such as the crack of thunder during a rainstorm or fireworks on July 4th, can cause anxiety in dogs, but these latest research results show that everyday household sounds such as a vacuum or microwave can have a similar effect. Interestingly, intermittent high-frequency noises, for example, the “beep” of a smoke alarm with a dying battery, are more likely to trigger anxiety than low-frequency, continuous noises.
We know that there are a lot of dogs that have noise sensitivities, but we underestimate their fearfulness to noise we consider normal because many dog owners can’t read body language. It’s important if you have a dog in the family to be aware of how your pet behaves when she’s feeling anxious. Common, easy-to-identify signs of anxiety in dogs include cringing, trembling, or retreating. Less obvious signals that your dog is feeling nervous include panting, lip licking, turning her head away, stiffening her body, turning her ears back, and lowering her head below her shoulders.
Are You Missing or Dismissing Your Dog’s Fear? For the study, the UC Davis veterinary researchers conducted a survey of 386 dog owners to determine their pets’ responses to household sounds; they also evaluated 62 online videos of dog behaviors and human reactions. They observed that owners often underestimated their dogs’ level of fear, and in addition, most of the humans in the videos appeared amused rather than concerned by their dogs’ fear responses.
It’s important to realize that dogs have a wider range of hearing than we do, and that some noises are potentially painful to their ears, such as very loud or high-frequency sounds. Once your dog has shown you by his behavior that, for example, the beep of the smoke detector makes him anxious, the kind thing to do is to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors often enough to prevent the beeping. Dogs use body language much more than vocalizing and we need to be aware of that, we feed them, house them, love them and we have a caretaker obligation to respond better to their anxiety.
In Some Older Dogs, Noise Sensitivity Can Be Pain-Related. A 2018 study suggests dogs who display fear or anxiety when they hear loud or sudden noises should be assessed for pain by veterinarians. The study authors examined cases of dogs who developed a sensitivity to loud sounds, different pitches, or sudden noises. They found that dogs with musculoskeletal pain developed a greater sensitivity to noise. The researchers believe that pain, which could be undiagnosed, could be exacerbated when a noise makes the dogs tense up or ‘start,’ putting extra stress on muscles or joints which are already enflamed, causing further pain. That pain is then associated with a loud or startling noise, leading to a sensitivity to noise and avoidance of situations where they had previously had a bad experience; for example a local park, or a louder room in the house.
The researchers looked at the veterinary records of 20 dogs diagnosed with noise sensitivity. The dogs were divided into two groups: 10 who had also been diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain (hip dysplasia, arthritis, and focal spondylosis), and 10 control dogs without pain. All 20 dogs showed noise sensitivity symptoms that included trembling, shaking, and hiding. However, the painful dogs showed an increased level of avoidance of places where they had a bad experience with noise. Sensitivity triggers included fireworks, thunderstorms, airplanes, gunshots, cars, and motorcycles.
Why It’s so Important to Help Dogs With Noise Sensitivity? A noise phobia in your canine family member is no laughing matter. Left untreated, the condition almost always gets worse. The development of a phobia involves a complex molecular change that isn’t well understood, but seems to involve a shift in how an affected dog processes information. Noise phobia can be inherited, so it’s possible for a pup to be predisposed to the condition if dogs in his lineage have displayed overreaction to noise. In fact, the genetic connection is so direct that if one of your dog’s parents overreacted to storms or other noises, you can reasonably expect your pet will have a similar response.
An overreaction to loud noises can also predispose your dog to other panic disorders like separation anxiety and behavioral problems. I recommend as a first step in dealing with your dog’s noise aversion that you simply observe her during a fearful episode and see what you can do to calm her. Some suggestions:
1.If your dog is crate trained, she may go there voluntarily to self-soothe, or you can lead the way. A blanket draped over the crate may help her relax. However, if she doesn’t normally use a crate, or worse, has a fear of crates due to a past bad experience, this isn’t the time to use one.
Under no circumstances should a fearful pup be forced into a crate either when she’s already anxious, or in anticipation of a panic response to weather or other noises. Your dog will feel trapped, which will make both her phobia and her reaction to it worse. Alternatively, you can lead her to a quiet room in your home and either leave her alone there to self-soothe (as long as she’s not frantic), or stay quietly with her. A silent, still environment can often provide relief.
Some dogs will seek out dark, quiet corners on their own where they can calm themselves, so consider providing yours with a darkened room, a closet floor, or space under a table or desk, preferably away from Wi-Fi routers and other EMFs. The goal is to give her a secure spot that helps her calm herself. If she continues to panic in her quiet space, it isn’t what she needs to help her relax.
2.Take your dog for a brisk walk or a game of fetch before and after a stressor occurs to help combat the negative physiologic effects of stress-induced hormones.
3.Play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs. This may both relax your dog and drown out distressing noises.
4.Try putting gentle, continuous pressure on your dog to calm her. If she’ll allow it, try leaning gently on or against her without petting or stroking. If this is helping, you’ll feel her muscles begin to relax. If instead she seems to grow more anxious, this isn’t a technique that will be helpful for her. If your dog seems to respond well to pressure applied to her body, there are wraps available (e.g., Thundershirt.com, TTouch anxiety wrap) that many pet parents find very helpful.
5.Try Ttouch, a specific massage technique that can help anxious pets.
6.Use Calming chews, or Bach Flower Remedies: they could be helpful in alleviating your dog’s stress. Rescue Remedy is one of many different flower essences that can help calm a tense animal. CBD oil can be very beneficial for these cases, as well. Calming nutraceuticals and herbs that can be of benefit include holy basil, l-theanine, rhodiola, ashwagandha, GABA, 5-HTP and chamomile. If the stressor persists longer than 72 hours, adding in adrenal supportive compounds that can be very beneficial. Also consider an Adaptil collar or diffuser, which contains a dog-appeasing pheromone and is designed to have a calming affect. Using zoopharmacognosy in these situations can be profoundly impactful.
One thing you never, ever want to do with a dog who’s afraid of storms or other loud noises, is leave her outdoors while she’s anxious or panicked. Dogs regularly run away or seriously injure themselves attempting to escape outdoor enclosures during storms, fireworks displays, and other noisy events.