|Some dogs are more sensitive to sounds than others|
Not all dogs react to sound in the same manner. While some dogs are sound specific, most dogs that are considered “noise phobic” or “sound sensitive” tend to be particularly frightened of loud low range sounds like fireworks and thunder. July fifth is the busiest day for animal shelters picking up dogs found wandering the streets, dogs that jumped over fences or broke through gates during Fourth of July fireworks. Along with keeping animals indoors during times that we know are potentially frightening (New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, and during storms) there are other ways to assist them.
It is possible to desensitize most animals to loud sounds. Puppies born during storm season or exposed to loud noises while still with their mother (assuming the mother isn’t frightened), can be less sensitive to sound. Playing recordings of sounds and explosions at a very low level on a stereo, while feeding the dog treats, and then very gradually increasing the volume over several sessions can also help. But, desensitization is a long and delicate process. It’s important to consider how frequently the dog will be exposed to “real life” scary sounds. If thunder/fireworks only happen a few times a year, it might be more practical to seek ways of managing the sound and the dog’s reaction.
Panic and fear reactions to sound aren’t consistent. Some dogs pace and run. Others seek cover in tight or enclosed areas, although it is never advisable to crate a frightened dog. An interior room, one with no windows and no outward walls, will carry less sound and therefore be quieter. Padding the flooring with throw rugs can further muffle sound. Add a covered crate with the door left open, and some dogs will declare that their safe haven, especially if family members are there as well. There are also devices (Thundershirts is one) that wrap around a dog’s body, similar to swaddling babies, which use compression and pressure points to soothe. Dogs that pace and try to run would also fare better in the quietest room, but wraps and crates will make them more anxious.
Diffusing and muffling the sound can help as well. Windows and outside doors should be shut. Blinds and curtains should be drawn as well, both to add another sound barrier and to prevent added associations to sound – like flashes of light – from becoming panic triggers. Basements have the surrounding ground to muffle sound as well as having a slab floor. Carpeting and rugs also keep sound from transferring. Turning on ambient sound, such as a fan, can help, as can turning up the television. If the dog is accustomed to music with a bass, playing music with a thumping bass, with the bass speakers face down on the floor can help disguise other rumblings.
There are also over the counter herbal preparations that can help take the edge off of dogs’ anxiety. Most contain tryptophan and chamomile, generally harmless ingredients. However, it’s always best to consult with a vet first to make sure. For severely anxious dogs, medication can be prescribed, but it’s best to try them during a neutral time first to know if it’s the right fit for the dog. Some medications have a paradoxical effect.
While it requires a bit of planning to prepare for storms or fireworks, some dogs can start to associate the preparations with “something bad” about to occur, which can also start panic. Practicing what to do when there isn’t a storm or fireworks can help break up any negative associations. Wearing the Thundershirt at arbitrary moments, hanging out in the “quiet room,” and playing dance music during calmer times, preferably while eating snacks or getting belly rubs, can build additional positive associations with the plan, making the end result more potent.Finally, it’s not true that offering comfort to a fearful dog rewards fearfulness. Dogs need assurance that all is well, just like people. However, assurances are just that: assurances. If there aren’t solutions or a plan in in place to help mitigate the fear, there will be no resolution. And that’s not very reassuring.