Noise phobias in dogs

Overview

  • Dogs are very sensitive to noise and can hear much more than us. As a result, even quiet noises can be scary for them, and noise phobias are common.
  • If your dog is showing signs of being scared of certain noises, contact your vet for advice.
  • It’s never too late to help your dog overcome a noise phobia.
  • The best way to prevent a noise phobia is by gently introducing your dog to a range of sounds while they are young.

Why is my dog scared of loud noises?

Dogs can hear a much broader range of frequencies than humans, so what feels like a quiet, far away noise to you, can be loud and scary for a dog. Noise phobias can be caused by:

  • A previous bad experience: for example, being startled by a car or balloon as a young dog.
  • Lack of exposure to noises as a puppy: your dog is much more likely to be scared of noises that they don’t hear until they are an adult.
  • Pain: pain can cause some dogs to become sensitive to noise, which is why you should always have your dog checked by your vet if they suddenly develop a noise phobia.

Common noise phobias

A dog can be afraid of almost any noise, but common triggers include:

Symptoms of noise phobia in dogs

Some of the most common symptoms of noise phobia include:

  • Looking scared (showing the whites of their eyes, tucking their tail away)
  • Tremors
  • Cowering down or freezing on the spot
  • Running from noises
  • Hiding
  • Becoming uncharacteristically jumpy
  • Excessive barking/growling
  • Attention seeking
  • Destructive behaviour such as digging and chewing
  • Toileting in the house

Read more about canine body language.

When to contact your vet

An untreated noise phobia is likely to get worse with time, so it’s best to contact your vet as soon as you notice your dog showing any signs of fear. Your vet will first check your dog is healthy, not in pain and then discuss the best steps to get them some help. They might recommend seeing an accredited behaviourist.

Treating your dog’s noise phobia

Good news! With the right help, time and patience, most dogs with noise phobias can improve significantly. Always seek help from a professional, who is likely to recommend the following:

Training

‘Desensitisation and counterconditioning’ is a structured way of getting your dog used to noises they are scared of.

  • Start by exposing them to the noises at a very low level, then build up gradually.
  • Constantly reward them with something positive (such as a treat or a game) while the noise is playing.
  • If they show any signs of fear, reduce the noise level until they are totally comfortable, and build more slowly next time.
  • Desensitisation should always be done with guidance from a vet/vet nurse/accredited behaviourist.
  • This technique is often very effective, but requires patience because it can take several weeks, or even months.

Behaviour modifying medications

  • If your dog has a very severe noise phobia, i.e. they shake, dribble, try to escape, hide, pace, bark, or display destructive behaviour, your vet might prescribe medications to use alongside their training program.
  • Never use any human medications or medications that your vet hasn’t prescribed.

Calming supplements

  • There are several different calming supplements available for dogs.
  • Speak to your vet or behaviourist before using any because some are better than others, and some contain ingredients that can interfere with other prescribed medications.
  • Calming supplements are only usually helpful for mild noise phobias.

Adjustments at home

  • Stay home if they are scared.
    • They might need comfort, or to hide on their own - either way, it’s important that you’re home.
  • Comfort them if they come to you.
    • Some dogs prefer to be left alone, but most benefit from comfort - it’s a myth that you should ignore them.
    • Imagine being stuck in a room, terrified, with no way of escaping. In one scenario, your best friend is with you but ignoring you when you go to them, in the other scenario, they give you your favourite food, a hug, and a safe place to hide. Which one would make you feel better?
  • Shield them from noises until they are more confident
    • Shut windows, close curtains, and turn the TV on during thunderstorms and firework displays.
    • Never go for a walk if a storm is forecast or after dark during fireworks season.
  • Distract your dog when they are scared by playing with them or giving them some tasty treats.
  • Try a pheromone diffuser or collar to help them feel calm (these are different to calming supplements mentioned above).
  • Make them a den or safe place.
    • If your dog has a crate, make it into a den by covering it with lots of blankets.
    • If they don’t like a crate, make a comfortable, enclosed space for them.
  • Never force them to use a den if they aren’t keen.

Preventing noise phobias

The best way to prevent your dog from developing a noise phobia is to slowly introducing them to lots of different sights and sounds while they’re young.

  • Make new noises fun by giving them a treat, toy, or some praise when they happen.
  • Introduce your pup to fireworks and thunderstorm noises using an online playlist. This is especially important if your dog is born at the beginning of the year, because otherwise they won’t experience these sounds until they are older.
    • Start playing them very quietly, for just a few minutes. Give them treats, their dinner, or play with them throughout.
    • Each time you play the noises (every day to every few days), increase the volume and how long you play them.
    • If your dog becomes stressed at any point, reduce the volume and take it slower.
  • Be calm around noises especially if your pup shows signs of stress.
    • Calmly take them away from sounds they are scared of and introduce them again another day, in a less overwhelming setting.
  • Keep exposing them to noises while they are an adult, and reward them, so they continue to think of them as fun/positive.

FAQs

Can I use flooding to treat my dog’s noise phobia?

Some people think continually exposing their dog to the thing they are scared of (also called “flooding”) will help them learn not to be afraid. However, this approach is likely to be terrifying, and make your dog even more scared (a bit like locking someone with a phobia of spiders in a room with one). Never use flooding – instead, expose to their fears slowly and positively as part of a behavioural training plan managed by your vet or certified behaviourist.

Published: August 2022

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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only. Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst.