Noise aversion is relatively common among dogs, with up to two-thirds showing fear and anxiety when faced with loud sounds. However, noise aversion in dogs often is undiagnosed—and untreated—primarily because pet owners do not realize how sounds negatively affect dogs. In this blog post, learn all about this common condition, including identification and management.
What Is Noise Aversion in Dogs?
If your dog becomes fearful or anxious when confronted with a loud noise, he or she may be experiencing noise aversion. Noise aversion can present as a mild sensitivity, intense anxiety, or phobia.
How did your dog handle the fireworks this 4th of July? How does your dog react during thunderstorms? Summer can be a terrifying season for fearful dogs. Other common noise aversion triggers in dogs include the following:
- Construction sounds
- Heavy traffic
- Children laughing and playing
- Loud television or radio volume
- Vacuum cleaner
- Hair dryer
- Household appliances
Some dogs may develop noise aversion to less common or loud sounds, especially if they associate them with negative experiences. For example, clicking nail clippers can cause dogs fear and anxiety.
How Do Dogs Develop Noise Aversion?
Any dog of any age can develop noise aversion, although the condition is more common among certain breeds and older dogs. Herding breeds, such as border collies and Australian shepherds, are more likely to be noise-averse. In contrast, hunting dogs, like Labradors and German shorthaired pointers, are typically calm and collected when they hear loud sounds.
Older dogs are more sensitive to loud sounds, likely because when they are startled, their stiff muscles and arthritic joints tense up and cause pain. If your senior dog suddenly develops a loud noise-related fear, they may be silently suffering from osteoarthritis.
Noise-averse dogs often are naturally anxious and nervous—meaning that a dog with generalized anxiety or separation anxiety is also likely to have noise aversion. Anxiety appears to be a result of both genetics and environmental factors. For example, a stray, nervous border collie mix who gave birth to a litter of puppies in an alley will likely pass her fear along to her puppies, who could develop noise aversion, despite finding loving homes.
Additionally, dogs not exposed to various sounds during their socialization period are more likely to be noise-averse. Lack of habituation and ongoing positive exposure can strongly affect a dog’s comfort level with loud sounds.
How Will I Know if My Dog Has Noise Aversion?
Noise aversion signs can be subtle and difficult to detect. Overall, noise-averse dogs show similar signs as dogs with generalized anxiety, but noise-adverse dogs’ signs are displayed in conjunction with a loud event. Your noise-averse dog may show the following signs:
- Trembling and shaking
- Excessive panting
- Pacing or restless behavior
- Whining, barking, or howling
- Hypervigilance, or alertness
- Lip licking
- Destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, digging, or scratching at walls, floors, furniture)
- Inappropriate elimination
- Escape attempts
Keep in mind that noise aversion can be mild or severe. For example, dogs may lick their lips or yawn when the vacuum cleaner starts. Or, they may enter full freakout mode, urinate indoors, and attempt to scratch through a door.
5 Ways to Help Your Dog Cope with Noise Aversion
While noise aversion can severely impact your dog’s life, particularly during thunderstorm and fireworks season, you can reduce their anxiety and fear. Here are five ways to help your dog cope with noise aversion.
- Limit Your Dog’s Exposure to Sound Triggers
If you know what sounds send your dog into a panic attack, minimize potential exposure. This might mean taking the long way around the neighborhood to avoid construction or a sporting event at the local high school. You may also need to pay close attention to the forecast and help your dog hunker down in a quiet spot in your home when thunderstorms are on the radar.
- Implement Behavioral Modification Techniques
Behavioral modification involves changing the way your dog views loud sounds. You can help your dog form a positive—or at least neutral—association with loud events through counterconditioning and desensitization. To understand how to implement counterconditioning and desensitization, look at this example of fireworks fear.
Begin by playing a soft soundtrack of fireworks near your dog. Watch for anxiety signs, and reduce the volume if your dog looks stressed. Once your dog relaxes, offer a high-value treat, such as chicken breast, hot dog pieces, or string cheese. Slowly increase the volume, offering your dog treats as long as they stay calm. With time and repeated sessions, your dog will form a more positive association with fireworks, essentially learning that fireworks mean good things (i.e., treats) are coming.
- Create a Safe Haven for Your Dog
When loud noises strike, your dog would appreciate a safe retreat. Set up a pleasant sanctuary in the quietest room of your house, with a comfortable bed, a favorite toy, and a long-lasting treat. When a thunderstorm is in the forecast or a fireworks show is scheduled to start, set up your dog in their haven before the loud sounds begin.
- Use Calming Products to Help Soothe Your Dog
When setting up your dog’s sanctuary, use products that help create a relaxing atmosphere. Calming pheromones that mimic a mother dog’s scent can ease your dog’s stress, and soothing music or white noise can help drown out triggering sounds. Additionally, consider a compression wrap to apply gentle pressure to specific body points proven to help your dog relax.
- Ask Your Veterinarian for Help
Despite your best efforts, your dog may still exhibit severe anxiety or fear when faced with loud sounds. In these cases—or more moderate noise-aversion cases—your dog may benefit from a behavioral consultation and prescription medication. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss anti-anxiety medication options. Long-term medications can help with generalized anxiety or during your dog’s behavioral modification regimen. Short-term medications can be used as needed before a storm or fireworks show.
With patience and perseverance, you can help your dog overcome their fear of fireworks and other scary sounds.