Dogs don’t interact the same way with the world as humans. What seems to be a harmless, albeit loud, noise to us is terrifying and incredibly anxiety-inducing in dogs. Dog noise anxiety is common in many dogs, regardless of breed. Understanding what it is, what it looks like, where it comes from, and how to deal with it can help ease this common discomfort and fear in your pooch sooner rather than later.
Dog noise anxiety and/or phobia is when your dog has an especially strong reaction to sharp, loud, and unexpected noises. He is essentially terrified of what we (as humans) know to be harmless sounds. This can be mild, but most pet parents notice it in dogs as being moderate to severe. If you think your pooch may have dog noise anxiety, take a look below at its symptoms and causes as well as how to ease his fear in the short- and long-term to keep him comfortable.
What is dog noise anxiety and noise phobia?
In more detail, dog noise anxiety is when loud, sharp noises (more on that in the next section) make your dog mildly, moderately, or severely anxious. This anxiety is usually noticeable, even if it is mild. A lot of times, you’ll find that it can vary from sound to sound as well as how close (or far) the noise is from them.
Dog noise phobia is when your pooch is absolute, no-holds-barred terrified out of his mind of even the quietest, unusual sound. Regardless of how far it is from them or how much you reassure him that the microwave beeping is okay, he’ll react with unbridled terror every time he hears (what he determines to be) an unusual sound.
Dog noise anxiety and phobia symptoms
If some of that sounds familiar, you may have a doggo that is sensitive to noise. Below are some of the most common symptoms you can watch for. The sound volume and type will often determine how strong (and how many of) these symptoms your dog exhibits.
Shaking or shivering
From just mild shaking of his body to a full-on case of severe heart-breaking quakes, your pup may shake and shiver and tremble when he hears loud, scary noises that make him feel afraid.
While panting is commonly thought to be a positive thing — which it can be — it can also be a sign of anxiety or fear. That’s why, for instance, doggos so commonly pant at the vet’s office. If he is panting for no other apparent reason, it could be linked to some anxiety that he is feeling from a sound.
Tail tucking and ears held back
You’ve seen him tuck his tail and pin his ears back when he’s done something wrong, but it can also be a sign of fear and uncertainty. This is especially so if you notice that he is pacing, or rushing frantically from room to room or whinging and panting, etc. All of these symptoms can mean multiple emotions and reactions, but all brought together, they can signify that he’s anxious.
Hiding or clinging to Mom/Dad
He’ll also start looking for Mom or Dad (whoever he prefers, to be blunt about it) and will essentially attach himself to them. This could be pressing his side up to you incessantly, crawling into your lap and hiding his face in your chest (squeeeeee), or trying to disappear behind/beneath you so that you can “protect” him.
Dog noise anxiety causes
While this isn’t a complete list, and you may find that your pooch reacts only to some of these, or all of these, or even some that don’t appear here. However, here are some of the most common causes of dog noise anxiety and phobia.
Dogs and fireworks don’t mix in most cases. This is assumed to be perhaps the strongest cause of dog anxiety, especially if they are close and frequent. The booming and rumbling of the fireworks exploding are thought to be the cause of this. This is a good reason to never bring your dog to a fireworks display!
Not only are little kids (and some adults) afraid of thunderstorms, your pooch is, too! The rumbling of the thunder is thought to be the cause of this (similar to the fireworks above). Since your pooch can’t understand that the sound is harmless even though it’s practically on top of them, this can cause mild to severe panic in your pooch, even if he’s normally very brave.
Sirens and firehouse alarms
Sirens, including those from firetrucks, ambulances, and tornado warnings, are especially difficult for dogs, as they often pick up on the anxiety of humans and the panicked movements that they bring. The high pitch, especially painful for our pooch’s sensitive ears, can also be a part of it.
Some dogs may have anxiety and fear from other animals. Maybe due to a snarling dog or a howling wolf on TV. Or perhaps it may be due to those dogs barking down the street. You may find even that certain noises are anxiety-inducing, whereas others fly under the radar.
Where does dog noise anxiety and phobia come from?
So, where do noise anxiety and noise phobia in dogs come from, exactly? There are some known triggers for it, but a lot of times, it can range from dog to dog and from family to family.
If your pooch has a questionable past, he may have learned to associate certain loud noises (particularly if you notice that certain noises make him especially anxious as opposed to other ones that just make him mildly anxious) with trauma (real or imagined) of some kind.
Under-exposure to the world as a puppy
Just like with children and socialization, puppies need proper exposure to the world to develop a sound understanding of “good” and safe noises versus bad ones. If they had a sheltered puppyhood (if it was spent mostly in a rural area), they’ll find traffic noise and sirens absolutely terrifying. Whereas puppies who grew up in a city atmosphere won’t even give thought to sirens at all.
Genes and learned behavior combined
Many specialists between that dog noise anxiety and phobia can both be a combination of biological, “lizard brain” behavior — instinctive reactions to survive from a “threat” — and modern learned behavior as taught to them by you and your family. The percentage in each part differs from dog to dog and noise to noise.
How can I help my dog with a fear of loud noises?
It’s so hard to see your dog terrified of a simple thunderstorm, but we can do a lot to help ease him through the moment. Some of the most common things to try are below when it comes to your dog’s fear.
Create a safe space for him
Biologically speaking, dogs are den animals. If you create a safe space for him with pillows, blankets and darkness where he can hide inside of it, this will give him a space to calm down and feel as though he is safe. Try to put this in a place that is in the quiet part of the home.
Preventatively wear him out to help him relax
If you know your pooch gets scared of thunderstorms or fireworks and you think he may need to be dealing with either of those things with forecasting or celebrations, do what you can to wear him out throughout the day. A long walk here and an extra play session can help wear him out so that he either sleeps through the whole thing or he is at least more fatigued, so his nervous energy has nowhere to go.
Try re-conditioning his fear
If your dog’s reaction is exceptionally strong to the point that you simply can’t take it, you could consider re-conditioning his fear. This is a gradual process (more on it in a bit) that takes time, patience and effort, but can absolutely be a great long-term solution to help the doggo that deals with serious noise anxiety.
How to treat dog noise anxiety itself
If you’re just looking to help your pooch get through the heat of the moment with a noisy situation that is making him unbearably anxious, you can take a look at a few calming options that can help both of you get through the night.
Dog noise anxiety medication
You can help take the edge off of the anxiety your pooch is feeling by considering medications such as Benadryl or even CBD oil. As with anything that you give to your doggo, you should check with your vet first to make sure there are no issues. However, both of these calming and drowsy medications can be helpful to keep your pooch content.
Dog noise anxiety music
From actual music such as on the TV or radio to classic white noise tracks such as a fan blowing, simply drowning out the noise with something else can help him find some comfort and peace of mind — just like humans.
Dog noise anxiety mufflers
If that isn’t cutting it, you can consider investing in some professional dog noise anxiety mufflers. They slip on over your pooch’s ears and will help drown out the worst of the noise just like earplugs would with humans.
How to treat dog noise phobia
For pooches that have a severe reaction to basically every single noise, it’s more than likely that they are dealing with dog noise phobia. Essentially, this is a super-charged fear that often requires treatment to help your pooch enjoy some quality of life. There are some steps you can use if you are looking to help recondition your dog’s many noise-related fears.
Learn the triggers
Every pooch has certain triggers that are stronger than others. Whatever they may be, learn what they are and do what you can to list them in order of severity of the reaction.
Start with the smallest triggers first
When you’ve got your list, you can start to help desensitize your pooch to those fears one by one. You’ll want to start with the smallest triggers first — the sounds that seem to cause the least amount of reaction in your doggo. These are less scary and will be easier to re-train. Starting with the worst fear first will create an even stronger response.
Expose your pooch to the noise in a controlled setting
Find an online recording or the scary sound and put it on your phone so that you can play it in an exposure setting. This is a controlled situation where you are in charge of playing and stopping the sound for your pooch.
To do this properly, start with just a few minutes on low volume for your pooch. If you feel more comfortable, you can even do it “remotely” by putting the soundtrack in a different room on a low volume. Whatever you think is best. However, make sure you can adjust the volume and start and stop it under your control.
Each time you do this, it should be controlled so that you can manage your own behavior and show your pooch that a sound is just a sound. If you “panic” (struggle with the soundtrack and start raising your voice, for instance), he will simply start to worry, too.
Pair exposures with play and lots of love
During the exposure itself, expect your pooch to be scared and nervous. From start to finish, focus your attention on him and give him lots of love, kindness, and even distract him with play. You can do this with the soundtrack of your choice, making it louder and longer as your dog adjusts to him.
The exposures are designed to pair a positive emotion (playtime and love) with the sound instead of negativity and uncertainty. Over time and with lots of exposure, this will help your pooch re-train him learned behavior to the scary sound. This is very similar to how fear conditioning works in humans, too.
Work your way through the noises gradually until your dog reacts well to all of them
From noise to noise and setting to setting, you can lead your dog through the exposures until he is no longer reacting to all of them — even his worst and scariest one! This can take a long time, but it is possible by using the right techniques. It’s important not to push him to the next level until he seems ready for it, as this can actually re-traumatize him all over again.
Make the exposures a habit so that they’re just part of the day
Once you’ve got his reactions to a level where you feel that he’s as comfortable as he can get (he’ll never be entirely okay with them, after all), you can then make it a daily habit to play those soundtracks, still paired with play and love. What it all comes down to is, the more he hears the “scary sound”, the more normal it gets, and the less fear he is going to feel.
Reminders when dealing with dog noise anxiety
From both a treatment side as well as a general “living with a dog with noise anxiety” side, there are some important tips to make the most out of it.
Be patient and kind
Regardless of the cause or the reaction to the problem sound, remember to always, always be kind and patient with your pooch. He’s feeling fear, and he’s looking to you for guidance and protection. If you are cruel and push him away, he’ll learn that he has a right to be scared. If you give him comfort and love, he’ll feel safe and calm down much faster and easier. Dogs look to their favorite humans for reassurance, so make sure you give it to him no matter how embarrassing or frustrating it might be to have your pooch start to panic every time you make popcorn.
Don’t coddle him or her
Both as a puppy as well as an adult, it’s essential to walk the line between being compassionate but not coddling. If you drop everything to hug your pooch tight and cover him in layers of blankets, with baby talk galore (come on, we all do it), it actually leads him to think that he should be fearful, and he may even become more afraid as a result. You can be kind and reassuring by using a soft tone of voice and giving him attention. But, keep your demeanor calm and controlled and positive. This shows your pooch that he has nothing to fear.
The more that your pooch is exposed to, from social situations to sound-based situations, the more that he’ll be able to understand and interpret. A well-rounded dog will always be stronger and “braver” when it comes to dealing with anxiety.
Both dog noise anxiety and phobias are always problematic on the pet parent, but understanding causes, symptoms, and getting some ideas for short- and long-term treatment can really help make the most out of a challenging situation!