Noise Phobic or Just Needy?

by Dr. Fincher / Monday, 16 July 2012 / Published in Uncategorized
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The day when the sky explodes has just passed (I figure that’s how our noise sensitive friends feel), I thought I’d take this opportunity to give some info, hints and tricks to help Independence Day pass with a little less trauma to all next year.

Before we touch on suggestions, I’d like to try to help you determine if your dog actually has a noise phobia or if its possibly a more general behavior issue or alternate trigger.  Some of the criteria that must be present for Fluffy to be considered to have Noise-Related Distress are as follows:

1. A stimulus- Stars and Stripes Forever while the sky falls, thunder, gun shots (I used to be an Army Vet, there are always gunshots on base…)

2. A physical reaction- trembling, salivating, whining

3. Escape behaviors- Hiding

4. Avoidance behaviors- Destruction!

The animals who fall into a bit of a grey area are those who’ve demonstrated a discomfort or some other behavior that we label as “distress” (maybe even a surprise type jump up from sleep) and are comforted. This may condition them to seek the “reward” of comfort or food or whatever it is we use to soothe their delicate psyche.  When you think your dog is experiencing noise phobia, take a close look- do they hide and have to be forcibly removed from their hiding spot? or do they run and sit next to you, expecting a little love?  We are certainly a source of comfort for our pets ( and them for us), but it’s important to remember they’re creatures who are easily trained to display certain behaviors for reward and for many, that reward may just be a little attention.  It’s just like them plopping their butts on the ground when they hear “sit” because they expect a treat; except it’s a “boom” that drives them to seek the attention reward they’ve associated with that occurrence.  A little counter-conditioning, just consistently ignoring the attention seeking behavior, may be all it takes for those dogs to overcome the “noise phobia”.

Along those same lines, I encourage you to be careful how you respond to those animals that do have a true noise phobia; those who tremor, cry and hide.  It is easy to reward that behavior with attention and have an increasingly severely sensitive dog whose motivation is partially fear and partially a desire for attention.  The best way to do this is to withhold attention until they’re quiet, even if it’s just a momentary silence, and calm.

There is a wide range of suggestions for helping our noise phobic pets and only anecdotal evidence for some.  Many of you may be familiar with the “Thundershirt” which is a super tight doggy tee which has been reported to be very successful in adding a calming touch to our spazzy pooches; certainly worth a shot!

Environmental intervention is a huge way we can help Fluffy deal with his chicken little syndrome.  Some suggestions include masking sounds (a radio, white noise), kenneling (help prevent some of those destructive behaviors) and visual masking (put them in a windowless room with noise masking).

As your friendly veterinarian, I usually like to encourage owners to try environmental changes prior to drugging their dogs, but I will be the first to recognize when more drastic measures are necessary.  I give my Bentley a little something when the Red, White and BOOM starts to help calm those buzzing Cattle Dog nerves.  There are a wide array of anti-anxiety medications and sedatives available, please ask your friendly veterinarian for advice on what is best for your furry friend.

An additional recommendation for those friends who fear the explosions; despite our best efforts, they can be slippery and get away to run for their lives, not aware that their safest option is to stay with their person.  It is never a bad idea to have your pet microchipped so that if the worst happens, you know there is a way to identify them and for their rescuer to get in touch with you.

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