Loud noises cause fear, stress, and anxiety…but what can be done about it?
BY CAROLYN MENTEITH, BEHAVIOURIST & DOG TRAINER AT TAILS.COM
“A lot of dogs are afraid of loud noises, especially unpredictable ones such as thunder or fireworks, which causes them fear, stress, and anxiety, and as an owner, it can be distressing to watch them suffer every time the weather turns stormy.
“Without having been habituated to loud and unpredictable noises during the unique developmental period in their puppyhood when new things are accepted as being ‘a normal part of life’ and nothing to be afraid of or worried about, many dogs can grow up to suffer from noise phobia.
“While we know what thunder is, and that it isn’t something dangerous or terrifying, our dogs don’t know that. All they know is that it is loud, unexpected, and scary.
“And something that produces a strong emotional response, such as fear, won’t habituate, it will sensitise. In other words, they won’t get used to it, they’ll just get more scared and more worried about it every time it happens.
“It’s not just the noise either. The air pressure changes before a storm, and because our dogs are much more sensitive to these changes than we are, they can detect them early and begin to get stressed as they know what is coming – often long before we do.
What are the signs my dog is afraid of thunderstorms?
When your Westie is showing symptoms of thunder fears, they can show a variety of symptoms:
- They may search for a secure place to hide. A lot of the time, dogs will go and try to find a place that makes them feel safer and more secure – such as under a bed.
- Shaking, trembling, or panting.
- Barking or whining.
- Pacing around the house.
- Excessive drooling.
- Seeking comfort from their owner/becoming clingy.
What can I do to keep my dog calm?
Try and exercise your dog beforehand
“If you think a storm is coming, get your dog’s daily walks in early before any hints of thunder. Exercise might take the edge off any excess canine energy and make them a little more relaxed and even sleep through the quieter rumbles. Most importantly give them the chance to get out to the toilet long before the weather takes a turn for the worse. Feeling desperate to go to the toilet is just going to make things worse for your dog.
Make sure that your dog has a space they can go to during a storm
“Make sure your dog has a safe place they can go when the thunder begins to rumble. For some dogs this might be a crate in a corner covered with a blanket to make a secure den – or it might be under a piece of furniture. Make sure to prepare the spot in advance with their favourite toys, treats, a blanket, and a bowl of water. This way, they have somewhere they can retreat to if they feel worried.
“Make sure that this spot is easily accessible and close to you – as they need your comfort as well.
“If they choose to go somewhere else, let them. Don’t try and encourage them out – just make sure they have water and stay close by them.
Be there to give your dog the support and comfort they need
“When it storms outside, it is natural for your dog to look to you for reassurance – after all, you are the one who provides safety, security, and love. Stay calm so you give them confidence and give them as much – or as little – physical contact as they need. Some dogs will get comfort from cuddling up to you while others will be happier just knowing you are nearby. If they can be distracted by a game, some training or simply food dispensing toys such as stuffed Kongs, licki mats etc, these can help give them something else to think about – but a really stressed dog can’t eat and so don’t be surprised if they refuse even their favourite morsels.
Try and mask the noise of thunder
“Thunder can be particularly scary to dogs, because they can hear at a much further distance than us humans can, and if everything else is silent, the thunder seems even louder! Try turning on the TV or radio, having a loud conversation (even if only with your dog!) and carry on as normal.
Close your curtains
“As well as minimising noise, you should also consider closing curtains or blinds to block out flashes from lightning that may be additionally unsettling for your dog.
Talk to your vet
“If your dog is showing excessive fear of thunder, and especially if it is getting worse, you should talk to your vet. Your vet may be able to suggest medication or complementary therapies that might help in severe cases as this is an area where there are several new treatments available.
Get help for the future
“One thing you can be sure of is that thunder happens – as do fireworks and other loud noises. This is a behaviour problem that isn’t going to go away without help. It is far better to work to prevent the distress and fear that noise phobia brings than to have to deal with a panicky dog when it does. Find an accredited behaviourist who can help you work on your dog’s noise phobia to help make future storms… less stormy for you both.”