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What is noise anxiety in dogs?

Noise anxiety, also called noise sensitivity/reactivity/phobia, is one of the most common behavioural concerns in dogs. Approximately 50 % of dogs react fearfully to some noise.

Common triggers for noise anxiety are typically sudden loud noises, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, engine noises and construction work.

Typical signs of anxiety and fear in dogs include panting, trembling, pacing, seeking people, hiding or trying to escape, refusal to eat, inappropriate urination or defaecation and facial expression and body language indicative of stress. Escape behaviour, including hiding, can result in self-trauma and/or damage to owner property.

Regardless of the triggering stimulus, the perception of fear and anxiety is equally negative for the dog that experiences it and, if it does not have an adequate coping mechanism, its welfare may be compromised.

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What causes noise anxiety?

Fireworks

Fireworks

Thunder

Thunder

Construction Work

Construction Work

Motorcycles

Motorcycles

Gun shots

Gun shots

Vacuum cleaners

Vacuum cleaners

True stories about noise anxiety

Typical signs of noise anxiety

Typical signs of noise anxiety and noise fear in dogs include panting, trembling, pacing, seeking people, hiding or trying to escape, refusal to eat, inappropriate urination or defaecation and facial expression and body language indicative of stress. Studies have shown that owners are sensitive to clear signs of distress in their dog and that animals with distressed reactions to noises may be perfectly normal at other times and are not necessarily described as having a fearful temperament.

Seeking

Owner seeking behaviour

Refuses to eat

Refuses to eat

Yawning

Yawning

Panting

Hiding

Hiding

Vigilance

Excessive vigilance

Pacing restlesness

Pacing/ restlessness

Trembling

Trembling

Vocalising

Vocalizing

Other signs: Cowering, salivating, freezing, destructiveness (e.g. during attempts to escape or hide), inappropriate elimination (usually house trained dog eliminates indoors), escape attempts, self-trauma and frequent swallowing.

How to treat noise anxiety?

Prevention is the preferred method of management and giving puppies and young dogs a chance to be accustomed to a wide variety of sounds in a safe environment at early age is key to the prevention of fear of noise as well as other anxieties.

Early intervention of noise related anxieties is the most helpful strategy because the dog otherwise learns from each negative experience which may result in significant noise related fear and anxiety. Easing anxiety when the pet’s response is minimal (e.g. lip-licking, yawning, scanning of environment) may prevent more serious noise anxiety from developing. Early intervention is also important as there is evidence that a dog suffering from noise anxiety may be susceptible to other types of anxieties, such as separation anxiety and generalised anxiety.

In many cases owners of young dogs frightened of specific sounds may be under the false impression that their dog will grow out of it, but without treatment it is not uncommon that the condition both worsens and generalises to include fear responses to other noises. In fact, spontaneous recoveries are unusual and when they do occur they are often associated with the onset of deafness.

Treatment options

Available treatment options to date can be divided into: Environmental management, behaviour modification, food supplements, other remedies as well as pharmaceutical therapeutics. In the majority of cases successful intervention is a combination of measures.

Medicinal and non-medicinal solutions

Medicinal and non-medicinal interventions are being used in trying to help dogs suffering from noise anxiety. Non-medicinal products include e.g. food supplements, pheromones, pressure wraps and herbal based products. These products do not undergo the same safety and efficacy evaluation process as medicines.

It is important that you discuss with your veterinarian what is the best treatment option for your dog.

Environmental Management/ restriction of the problem

The dog owner can easily make changes in the environment to help the dog and so restrict the problem. Some of these measures also lay a foundation for the long-term resolution of the noise anxiety.

Very useful measures are:

  • Avoidance of anxiety triggering sounds
    If possible, anxiety triggering sounds should be avoided until the problem has been brought under control
  • Reducing the physiological and behavioural responses to sounds
    Physiological and behavioural reactions may have feedback effects and the dog’s negative emotional state related to these sounds will be increased after each negative experience
  • Appropriate owner behaviour
    Avoid punishment, stop inadvertent re-enforcement, be present
  • Provision of the safe haven or den
    Train your dog to use a save haven or den
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Behaviour modification/ resolution of the problem

Behaviour modification is the key to the resolution of noise anxiety. Typically it involves systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning techniques as well as teaching the dog to relax by rewarding the dog for relaxed behaviour.

The sounds a dog is frightened of and their learned predictors should be listed and categorised from least to most stressing. Counter conditioning starts with the least stressing but in case even they trigger noise anxiety systematic desensitisation may be required before counter conditioning can start.

Ask your veterinarian or a dog behaviour specialist for more information

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Find a veterinarian

Find a veterinarian to consult about noise anxiety