Loud noises, such as thunder or fireworks, can trigger behaviors known as noise phobias. A phobia is an extreme physical or emotional response to a real or anticipated threat. Phobias can develop over time, or they can be the result of a single defining moment. Some breeds are genetically more likely to develop noise phobia.
Symptoms of a phobia include panting, hiding, trembling, pacing, barking or howling, and being destructive. These behaviors are often more intense when the pet is home alone. A diagnosis is given when these signs are consistently seen during fireworks or thunderstorms. Noise fears are also more common in dogs already diagnosed with separation anxiety.
Some dogs will never reach a comfortable place with fireworks or thunder, but there are many things that you can do to make the phobia and anxiety less of a problem for your pet.
**Help your pet find a safe place–Hiding during a storm or during fireworks is a normal fear response. You can help by creating a place that is a safe haven for your fearful pet, that he can always access. This is especially important for instances when you are not home! If possible, close doors and windows to minimize exposure to the noise, or use a white noise machine or music.
**Redirect your pet’s behavior–Some pets will not respond well until the fear-causing noise has passed, but others can be distracted with food or play time. Consider keeping a stash of new toys to offer when your dog starts to show a fear response.
**Consider medication for short term relief–Medication can be used to reduce symptoms, but this should not be used as a long term treatment. Resistance to sedatives can develop with repeated use, and there are issues with properly timing an oral dose if storms are predicted. Plus, oral meds can’t be given if no one is home.
**Try alternative or homeopathic methods–Thundershirts, pheromone collars and naturally derived anxiety medications can help when indicated. As with sedatives or anxiety medications such as Xanax, you should also start a retraining program.
**Start a desensitization program–In order for your dog’s noise phobia to be reversed, or at least made more manageable, you have to retrain him. Dogs with severe anxiety should consult with a behavior specialist, but pets with less severe problems can benefit from recordings made especially for this purpose, and other behavior modification methods. If you are interested in more information, please call the office.