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Firework season is upon us: How to help a dog with noise phobia?!

 

Fear of  loud and sudden noises is very common in dogs. Some breeds like Australian Shepherd, Border Collie and German Shepherd seem to be particularly predisposed to it.

This problem in canine family members is certainly no laughing matter. If left untreated this condition will certainly get worse. In mild cases dogs with noise phobia react by freezing and withdrawing while the others try to escape and may injure themselves trying to break through windows or chewing through restraints and enclosures.

Both mild and severe cases indicate profound suffering and damage to nerve cells.  Here are some tips to alleviate this problem.

Noise phobias of which storm phobia is just one variety  is defined as: " A sudden and profound, nongraded, extreme response to noise, manifested as intense, active avoidance; escape; or anxiety behaviours associated with the activities of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. Behaviours can include catatonia or mania concomitant with decreased sensitivity or responsiveness to pain or social stimuli. Once fully developed, repeated exposure results in an invariant pattern of response." (dvm360)

The development of noise phobia is still poorly understood and it seems to involve complex molecular change precipitating a shift in the way how dog process information. Noise phobias also seem to be hereditary. Noise phobia can predispose the dog to separation anxiety and other behavioural problems. The symptoms of noise phobia are similar and may include:

  •     Panting and salivation
  •     Vocalisation
  •     Trembling and pacing or freezing in one place
  •     Uncontrolled urination/defecation
  •     Destructive behaviours
  •     Hiding or escape

Most canine anxiety disorders develop between the age of 6 to 24 months and usually worsen if left untreated. Dogs very often associate different noises with the same behaviour so if your dog reacts badly to thunderstorms there is more then 90% chance he or she will react badly to fireworks.

 FIRSTLY, DO NOT REINFORCE ANXIOUS BEHAVIOUR

Petting or emotionally soothing  phrases like "its okay"  are associated with desirable behaviour. If we try to comfort our canine in this way  during the unwanted behaviour we will confuse them and in fact inadvertently  reward fear and anxiety.

TIPS FOR CALMING A PANICKED DOG

  • Staying quietly with your dog in peaceful environment can often provide relief and lead to self-soothing. Dogs often pick up on our emotions and thoughts so the paramount for the owner of affected dog is to stay calm and relaxed.
  • If the dog prefers to stay in dark and enclosed space, like under the table or in the closet  you can lead them there. If your dog is crate trained he may go into the crate to self soothe voluntarily or you can lead the way. You can also drape the crate with blanket to minimise the noise. The goal is to give them secure space where they can self-soothe. If they continue to panic in this space then this is not what they need.
  • Playing calm, soothing music can help to relax the dog and drown out the distressing noise.
  • Applying firm pressure over large areas of body can help to calm excitative states. This means firmly hugging the animal with as much of your body as possible and gently squeezing in slow and steady motion. This is called forced holding or deep touch method and is similar to holding therapy for autistic children. I often use this method in my practice with remarkable results when presented with dogs who panic during clinical visit.
  • Tellington Touch Method offers various touching techniques to prevent noise phobias and to calm excitative states. These techniques can be easily learned from Linda Tellington's book.
  • There are different homeopathic and holistic remedies that can help with noise phobias and excitative states. Bach Flower Rescue Remedy can easily be used at home and its always useful to have handy.
  • Magnesium Chloride gel applied on the inner side of the ear can be used as very mild and safe tranquilliser. Also, Lavender essential oil is known for its calming effect and it can be applied on dog's collar or bedding. These remedies should ideally be applied before stressor occurs.
  • In Malta summer fireworks for most of the village feasts usually start at around 7 PM so it is a good idea to be prepared in advance for the evening on the days of the feasts in your vicinity.   
  • You can also try blocking the intensity of the sound. Mutt Muffs is the website specialising in different types of ear protection for dogs.
  • Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP)  is a substance released by bitches to calm the puppies. You can use DAP collar or diffuser.
  • In dogs in the  initial stages of noise phobia  you can use desensitising by gradually exposing your dog to the noises he overreacts to. There are tapes, records, CDs and internet sites that mimic all sorts of noises, including storms, exploding fireworks, car backfires and even gunshots. This method doesn't seem to work in dogs with fully entrenched noise phobia.

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