Fireworks, Thunder, and Tropical Storms….OH MY!

noise sensitivity
Source: SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, we are battening down the hatches here in Florida.  “tropical depression #3” or, soon to be, Tropical Storm Colin, has us directly in it’s sights.

It seems like a great time to talk about noise-reactivity and the various ways that we can ease the anxieties related to fireworks, thunder, and, unfortunately in Florida, Tropical Storms!

We will cover a few methods here, but in the interest of transparency, only one will be recommended from my own experience.  Things like the Thundershirt come recommended from trusted sources though, so any of the following have worked for dogs within our circle of 4-legged friends.

Why do loud noises cause anxiety?

There are lots of theories for the reason loud noises, storms, and fireworks cause fear and stress in dogs, but no one really knows for sure.  As with most things, it is probably some combination of the dog’s past, training methods used, breed, and genetics.  A Study from last year showed that there was a significant difference between noise-reactivity in 17 different breeds and, also, females were more likely to display such behaviors.

My personal opinion is that loud noises are scary.  I know, otherwise well-adjusted, adults that get visibly shaken during intense storms, so it stands to reason that the same is true of dogs.  Some are just “naturally” inclined to fearful responses and some are not.

Solutions

My solution, which I have tested on a half-dozen noise reactive dogs in our foster history, is to completely ignore the issue.  I don’t deviate from our run-of-the-mill day, except to move our outside exercises inside for storms(it’s usually raining).  It is a bit counter-intuitive at first to see why this method is effective.  An easier way to understand the psychology behind it is to think of a child that is constantly coddled when they are scared.  I see this in the Little Lady all the time.  If we validate the fear by comforting her, the next time that the trigger presents itself, there is a noticeable increase in her fearful response.  fireworks-180553_960_720

I’m sure s0meone more well-versed in human psychology would be able to weigh in with the why behind this observation, but I’m going on my own observations alone.  This goes for dogs as well.  When we validate their fear response by being abnormally comforting, it reinforces, and inevitably, worsens the fearfulness.

I haven’t experienced a dog that is so far gone that this method doesn’t work.  But, I have heard of many.  So what is the plan of action if we have a dog whose noise-reactivity has been reinforced to the point of full out panic?

We use the ignore method in combination with one of the other methods that provide a feeling of safety for the pup.  The number 1 recommendation here is the Thundershirt.  I’m sure many of you have heard of this before, but it is basically a shirt that “hugs” the dog in order to provide him/her with a sense of security during times of stress.  I have no idea how or why this device actually works, but it does.  I’ve heard from numerous dog owners that wearing this thing causes an almost magical sense of calm in their dogs.

Desensitization

This is going to be our goal for training away fearfulness to sounds in our dogs.  I save this for last because, as with all training, control of the environment is important.  In this case it is critical.  We don’t have the opportunity to do this while the actual fear-inducing event is happening.  But, we do have a way to simulate the event.  I am a huge proponent of using technology to assist our canine companions in getting over their fears.  In this case, youtube is our best friend.

Using the sounds of thunderstorms or fireworks at a low volume, while using treats, praise, or play to re-associate the trigger with positive things is an amazing game plan. I would suggest using your smartphone and doing short desensitization sessions(30-45sec) 10-15 times a day, while progressively, and slowly, raising the volume.  Your dog will let you know how she is progressing when the next noise event happens.  I still recommend doing the same things to lessen stress in those situations(thundershirt, ignoring, etc) but you should see a marked improvement.

 

Are there any other ways that you have found to be effective for noise reactive dogs?  I would love to hear the story of how they worked!