HUMANE SOCIETY: Treating noise phobia in pets
Special to the Tribune
Many pets, dogs in particular, are subject to fear of loud noise, especially thunder. Noise-phobic dogs, may react to firecrackers, gunshots, engine backfire, falling objects and other sudden noise. Thunderstorms incorporate thunder, wind and rain sounds, lightning flashes, atmospheric pressure changes, ionization and storm-related odors. Reactions can be mild agitation to extreme aggression. Fortunately there’s ongoing research to find ways to comfort and condition a distressed pet so that panic can be relieved or eliminated. Trainers and behaviorists agree that a key is to recognize symptoms and work with fearful pets right away.
As with all behavior issues, first things on the list are prevention and a medical check up if symptoms appear.
“Many behaviorists and dog trainers believe that puppies go through a so-called ‘fear imprinting’ period sometime between the ages of eight to 20 weeks, when they learn what is safe in the big wide world, and what is not,” said Trainer’s trainer and author Pat Miller. “During this ‘fear imprinting’ period of a young pup’s life, it is imperative to take extra precautions to see that he or she isn’t traumatized by unusually loud or sudden noises.”
Look to your own behavior as well. Dr. Tracy Lord D.V.M. quoted in Alternative Veterinary Medicine cautions.
“Be sure that your demeanor does not heighten the feeling of panic. If you get tense over the expected reaction from your companion, they will not only pick up on this but feed off of it,” Lord said. “Try to remain calm. Take deep breaths. Be supportive and attentive but do not reinforce the belief that something bad is happening. Let your dog know that there is nothing to be worried about.”
Before experimenting with natural or prescription drugs, try creating a safe den for your pet such as a crate covered with a blanket or a small escape room. Close curtains and windows. Turn on distracting noise like a fan and soothing music. Harpist Sue Raimond reports that she successfully tested the effects of her string instrument vibrations and blended tones on wolves, dogs, cats, monkeys, goats, sheep, donkeys and gorillas. Raimond believes that string vibrations send out harmonic overtones which work at a cellular level to reduce stress levels.
A recent pet product category of thunder shirts, hug vests, and body wraps has appeared as a commercial adaptation of the cattle calming “squeeze box” concept developed by scientist Dr. Temple Grandin. User feedback is that, in addition to noise phobia, they can be helpful in a significant percentage of insecurity, separation anxiety and other behavior modification applications. Positive results have been achieved simply using a t-shirt as a comfort wrap. Other calm inducing products include pheromones like “Comfort Zone”, safe and effective for many pets.
When environmental changes, desensitization and distraction techniques like play and treat filled toys don’t work, there are specific herbal and prescription drugs available as last resort. Researchers Nicholas Dodman and Linda Aronson of Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center discovered that over the counter Melatonin works as an alternative to drugging or sedating pets. There are other natural calming agents as well. However, caution is a must because these products are not regulated. Quality, other ingredients mixed in, and dosage amounts must be specific for your pet to avoid the risk of possibly fatal side effects. Ask your veterinarian to guide you.
All treatments for noise phobia require that a pet guardian be patient and committed to helping his or her best friend overcome their terror. The good news is that it is possible to relieve or eliminate noise panic.
– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind.” Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.