Noise & Storm Phobias
Noise phobias are described as fear responses that occur when your pet is exposed to certain noises and events such as storms, fireworks, smoke alarms, car backfires, vacuum cleaners and many others. These fear responses can worsen over time and may seem to start without any noticeable event. Many dogs experience storm phobias in particular, but similar responses may occur with other types of loud noises.
Storm fear responses may not only be towards the sounds of rain and thunder, but to many other cues such as dull lighting and lightening. Some dogs will display fear behaviours even when we are not aware of a storm. This is attributed to the dogs’ keen senses that cause them to react to other events such as atmospheric changes in pressure, ionisation, static electricity and smells.
Several steps can be taken to protect your pet from fear and manage it when it occurs. Avoidance of the “bad feelings” is key in behaviour management.
Prediction is easier with certain events such as storms and fireworks. Weather forecasters tend to over-predict storm occurrences, and most storms occur in the afternoon or evening. If you can predict a storm then remove your dog from the yard and try to move them to a more sound-proof area of the house, and begin other management protocols as will be outlined later. Being home and present with your pet if at all possible will reduce the risk of them causing damage to the house or yard, and more importantly, to themselves.
2. Minimise stimulation
Stimulation comes in visual and auditory forms. Auditory stimulation can be minimised with sound-proofing and/or masking noises. Try to find the most sound-proof area of the house and use that area during the event. Brick walls are better at sound-proofing than timber; walk-in wardrobes are surrounded by many walls and your clothing will dampen a lot of noise as well; consider adding sound-proof cladding and foam/mattresses to a chosen room. Having the TV or radio on can also help to mask some noise. Try a few different types/genres of music to find what works the best for your pet.
Visual stimulation can be minimised by closing the blinds or curtains, and leaving the room’s light on so that flashes aren’t as obvious.
3. Creating a “den”
Creating a safe environment for your pet can help give them a sense of security during periods of fear and stress. A carrier, crate or box can be used in these situations. The den can be anywhere such as the laundry, bathroom, garage, your bedroom or wardrobe. Be mindful of sound-proofing, and temperature control as well. The den should stay cool in hot weather and be free from dangerous chemicals. Add in comforting blankets or beds to the crate, and cover most of it with a sheet or blanket. Your pet can be fed in the den as well to try to give more positive reinforcement.
Praise and comfort can help to alleviate some fear and stress. Some sources will say that providing comfort and praise rewards the fearful behaviour and will reinforce it. Many behaviourists now believe this attitude is nonsense. Current recommendations are to do whatever you need to do to create calmness for your pet. This can be as simple as giving comfort and attention. Some other techniques are:
– Calming massage: Concentrate on major muscle groups such as cheek, forehead, neck and shoulder muscles. Use a firm finger-tip massage in a small circle.
– Body wrap: Wrap you dog’s body firmly in a towel or use a Thunder Shirt to provide gentle compression over large areas of the body.
– Showing your pet that YOU are calm: Quiet voices, relaxed and “normal” behaviour can help to reinforce to your pet that you are not worried by the events. Animals often feed off the emotional states of their trusted humans, and your behaviour can help to provide a sense of calm in the situation.
“Dog Appeasing Pheromones” are synthetic mixtures of compounds identified from scent glands associated with mammary tissue of lactating female dogs feeding puppies. Adaptil diffusers or sprays can be used to mimic the calming sensation felt by feeding puppies in adult dogs during periods of stress. Adaptil can be used with up to 70% effectiveness.
Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone. This is the pheromone that cats leave naturally when they feel safe and secure in their environment. Feliway helps to reduce signs of stress such as urine spraying, scratching or hiding.
6. Using medications
Medication such as tranquilisers work in conjunction with other management protocols. Tranquilisers form a critical part of “avoidance” by trying to stop the fear and anxiety that drives the behaviour cycle. Remember, every bad experience makes the next one worse. Using medications can help to prevent a bad experience. Many people are reluctant to use medications, but their value and effectiveness is often underestimated. Using medications early in the cycle can help to break the cycle and prevent the behaviours from getting worse. Speak with your vet about which medications might be helpful for your pet.