What is noise phobia?
Many dogs develop a noise phobia, which is a conditioned reflex to the sound of bangs or other loud noises. To begin with, the sound of a firework will trigger a response whereby the dog starts trembling, whining, pacing restlessly and barking. This may be inadvertently reinforced in an attempt to reassure the dog. By using phrases such as “it’s OK, good boy” etc. the dog will either be praised or given attention when in an agitated state. As a result, the dog is rewarded unintentionally and so the phobia develops. An increasing range of sounds could trigger the conditioned reflex. In the case of most noise phobic dogs, they have suffered from inadequate socialisation as youngsters and so have failed to learn how to cope with loud noises.
How to react to your dog when agitated
The first important factor to consider is how the dog is treated when in an agitated state. It is important the dog only receives attention if it is calm and is ignored if it is anxious. Attempts to reassure the dog by speaking to it or petting it will reinforce this behaviour. As soon as the dog recovers from an episode of anxiety, praise, affection or food rewards should be given so that it will recover more quickly on future occasions. While it is important to be at home with the dog during these events, it is important that the members of the family act as normally as possible.
Preparing for fireworks or storms
During the firework season, or if a storm is imminent it is a good idea to provide the dog with a den or refuge so that it can satisfy its instinct to go to ground. This could be a dog crate or cage or a den can be constructed by pushing two chairs together and draping a blanket over the top. Walk-in wardrobes can work well for this too. The refuge should be in a quiet room that can be effectively sound proofed with curtains drawn. The dog should be trained to go into this place as often as possible in advance of the fireworks etc. The dog should be offered chews, filled Kongs and favourite toys there as a reward and to keep him busy. A TV or radio could be played in the room too. Sometimes music works better than the spoken word in these situations.
It is a good idea to give a protein meal some hours before you anticipate the fireworks starting and then shortly before dark falls follow this up with a carbohydrate meal e.g. potato/rice/pasta. This combination can make a dog more relaxed and inclined to sleep.
Using diffusers and capsules
The use of an “Adaptil” diffuser, plugged in close to the den may be helpful. The diffuser releases a mist of synthetic pheromones into the atmosphere which has been shown to calm dogs when they are anxious. In addition, Adaptil spray can be applied to the bedding in the den or to a fabric collar worn around the dog’s neck.
There are several products known as nutraceuticals, which can be used to help noise phobic dogs. These are usually in the form of capsules, which can be added to the food. They need to be given for a few days before the anticipated events and continued throughout. For dogs which weigh less than 15kg, there is a food available which contains these calming substances and it can be fed when required.
In more severe cases, an appointment with a vet with an interest in behaviour is recommended. This allows a process called counter-conditioning and desensitisation to be explained and implemented.
In addition to behaviour therapy, a product calle “Sileo” can be prescribed by a vet. This product is an easy to administer gel which is applied between the cheek and gum and is absorbed easily. The dog remains calm and fully functional and can continue to interact with its owners.. The name “Sileo” comes from the Latin “to be silent”.
More information about using the product can be found by looking on the manufacturers website.