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How to Help a Pet Dog with Noise Phobia !!

Darni was an adorable little Shih Tzu who loved just about everything except
loud noises, especially thunder. Her fear was so intense that she would shake,
tremble, pace, whine, vomit, and have diarrhea whenever the weather was
stormy. Darni’s family was distraught and had tried many traditional training
techniques to help her. Unfortunately, Darni was getting worse with each storm
season. Her owners loved her very much and did not want to see her suffer any
more. Fortunately, they were referred to a veterinary behaviorist for help.
Darni was four years old and had been suffering from noise sensitivities for
two years. After the behavior consultation, it became apparent that Darni had a
phobia of storms. However, her high level of fear and anxiety made it impossible
for her to respond to behavior modification exercises without the help of
antianxiety medications. With the use of appropriate medications, Darni’s family
was able to implement behavior modification recommendations and her fear of
storms was greatly reduced.
Now, although Darni still does not love storm season, she is able to lie down,
calmly walk around, and appear just a little worried as opposed to being
panicked. For Darni and her family, this is a huge improvement in everyone’s
quality of life. Darni’s family, who once thought there was no hope for their dog,
are now firm believers in never giving up.
What Are Noise Phobias?
Fireworks, thunder, and gunshots, oh my! These are some of the most common
noises that incite fearful responses in dogs. Anyone who has a dog who is afraid
of noises knows just how difficult this can be for both the dog and the family.
Why are so many dogs scared of noises? One study found that 33 percent of
dogs who show noise-related fears were also reported to have experienced a
traumatic event associated with noises. But what about the other 67 percent?
There are many theories as to why some dogs are afraid of noises while others
are not. A study led by veterinary behaviorist Daniel Mills at Lincoln University
in the United Kingdom looked into the causes of noise sensitivities. The study
discovered that, in addition to their having had traumatic experiences, dogs with
chronic stress and dogs who were not exposed to noises in early life in a
responsible, nonscary way are more likely to be sound sensitive. Dogs who do
not respond well to stress may have a genetic predisposition to being afraid of
noises.
Unfortunately, the research into this particular area is in its infancy. Until we
learn more about why and how these fears develop, it is most important to know
that there are currently treatments out there that can be very effective. So don’t
give up.
Facts, Not Fiction
Is reacting to noise really abnormal? After all, who hasn’t jumped or startled at
a large crack of thunder or when someone drops a tray of plates in a restaurant?
In fact, reacting to noises is very normal. Evolutionarily speaking, it is a
mechanism for increasing survival. If you hear a sound that might represent
danger and you flee from that sound, you survive. In fact, sound travels so fast in
the brain that it will often bypass the thinking parts and go straight to the part
that makes an individual flee. So if this can be a normal response, what
constitutes an abnormal reaction to noise?
For a noise response to be healthy, it is important that any reaction to a noise
is short-lived and that recovery from the noise is quick. One should not exhibit a
sustained response to the noise, even if the noise is sustained. Most of us have
the ability to get used to certain noises that our brains learn to ignore because
they do not represent danger. This process is called habituation. The ability to
habituate requires normal functioning of many parts of the brain, because
habituation is a learning process.
A healthy response for a dog would be to have a startle response to a
surprising noise, pause for a moment, and then be able to recover within
seconds. If this noise repeats itself over and over (for example, traffic, beeping,
fireworks, thunder), the dog should get used to or habituate to the noise. If the
dog is unable to habituate to the noise, this can lead to serious sound sensitivities
and other serious anxiety issues.
It has been suggested that noises that evoke an immediate defensive response
(meaning you need to prepare for danger) may not be as easy to habituate to as
noises that evoke a simple orienting response (meaning you turn to look at the
source of the noise). The most common noises that elicit a fearful response in
dogs—gunshots, fireworks, thunder, and engine noises—are all loud (seventy
decibels or greater), lack a specific sound pattern, and are impulsive (consist of
short bursts rather than sustained tones). These noises may be more likely to
cause an immediate defensive response because they are sudden and loud.
As mentioned earlier, biologically, some noises will bypass the thinking part
of the brain and incite a fear response so the animal can react quickly. This
makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. If there is something in the
environment that might indicate danger (a loud, sudden, unfamiliar noise), it
increases your chances of survival to just act (run away) rather than take the time
to think about running away.
What Does That Mean?

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