How to Help a Dog Fearful of Loud Noises
Hunters know well how to train dogs to love noises!
Why is Your dog Scared of Noises?
Do you own a dog that startles at the minimum noise? Is your dog fearfully reactive, barking and lunging at every sudden noise? Does your dog take cover when it hears the vacuum, the phone ring, a car pass by, the doorbell, or voices? If yes, your dog may be leading a stressful live, being unable to rest and stay relaxed. If you look at your dog indeed, you may notice that even when he is sleeping he is alert and ready to react, almost as if living in a constant fight or flight state.
This fear may stem from various causes. If your dog just moved to a new home, it is normal for the first weeks to take some time to adjust to all the new smells, noises, and sights. This should mellow down as the dog gets used to it, but it may take some time.
Some dogs have been traumatized by certain noises and have learned that by fleeing they are safe and therefore the hiding behavior reinforces each time. A dog may also have a history of abuse, and therefore any noise or sudden movement may be feared.
Another possibility is your dog undergoing a second fear period. This takes place between 6 and 14 moths of age and seems to affect mostly males. Dogs during this time are more reactive and fearful of things that may have never scared him before. To help these dogs out, never cuddle them when in a fearful state of mind, and never punish them. They must be gradually desensitized to noises and conditioned to accept them.
And then, there are those dogs weak -nerved by nature. In these cases, there may be little you can do about this if your dog has been this way since puppy-hood. You can however still try to classically condition your dog to noises you know for a fact to cause a fear response and below is listed how.
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How to Help Your Accept (and even love!) Noises
For those who have studied psychology, Isaac Pavlov, discovered several years ago, that by ringing a bell before feeding dogs, the dogs were drooling in anticipation of the food. The dogs therefore had learned to associate the sound of the bell with food. You can try to change your dog's emotional state about noises by doing the same thing. Use noises to your advantage just as Pavlov did with the bell.
In other words, keep a tray of dog treats nearby your coach out of reach or in a treat pouch around your waist. Every time you hear a noise that you know startles your dog, immediately launch your dog a treat before it has time to react. If your dog is too tense to eat the treat, invest in high value treats such as hot dogs, freeze dried liver, steak, etc. Do this exercise very often, and then something magical will happen if you are devoted to this enough: when the dog hears the noise, the dog will look up to you for the treat! The same can be applies to dogs fearful of thunder, the moment you see lightening, and hear the first rumbles give treats. Thunder means treat!
You can read more about thunder phobia in dogs here:
By doing this you have taught your dog to change its emotional state. From the dog thinking ''A cellphone is ringing, how scary better take cover!'' your dog will start thinking ''Yeahhh!! the cellphone is ringing, where's my treat, owner where's my treat!
If you think about it, most dogs are terrified of loud noises. If you shoot a gun, most dogs will startle or run for their life. Well, hunters have learned to train their dogs to love the noise of gunshots, not matter how loud it is. How? They make some quite chaotic noises right when they prepare to serve their dog's dinner. They will bang pots and pans, shut doors and storage bins, all for the purpose of desensitizing their dogs to loud noises. Then they gradually upgrade to louder noises, the noise of firearms in the distance before feeding... No hunter could work with a gun shy dog could they?
It's all about creating powerful associations! If you are not around for some time, and need to leave your dog alone with noises and are unable to create positive associations, try leaving the t.v or radio on to create white noise. Your dog will be less reactive.
As seen, classical conditioning is a very powerful tool and we have to thank Isaac Pavlov and his drooling dogs for this! Be diligent enough, and your dog will soon love noises, the louder the better!
For further reading
- How to Help Dogs that Fear Firecrackers
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