Most dogs have at least some sort of anxiety during the 4th of July when all the firecrackers are going off in the neighborhood or in the late spring when a big thunderstorm shakes the house, but then there are other dogs who have more extreme fears that may warrant a trip to your local Dartmouth animal hospital. While thunder, firecrackers, vehicle backfires and other loud noises might startle most dogs – and humans, let’s be honest – most dogs don’t break out into full panic mode. Some may hide under furniture or jump in your lap for safety, but some pets may associate these loud noises with traumatic experiences they had in the past before they even came to live in your home.
So many families are adopting pets from rescues or shelters these days, which is a really good thing. Abandoned pets in this country have reached staggering heights. However, it is important to speak with your veterinarian at your initial and annual veterinary check-up about any issues that your pet may have, such as anxiety issues in dogs or other seemingly baseless fears. Most fear-related issues in your pets can be solved, but if left untreated, a dog scared of loud noises today could become an extremely anxious and destructive dog tomorrow.
How Dogs Show Anxiety
When people are nervous or anxious, we can usually tell. Even if they don’t say a word, nervousness can be easy to spot once you know the symptoms. The same is true with dogs. Because the most common issue in dogs is a fear of loud noises, following these incidents it is important to watch for signs. A dog that tries to escape your home or the enclosure to get to a “safe place” where they usually sleep, rest or play, is an anxious and fearful dog. Some dogs will want to come indoors when loud noises occur, while others might crave the safety of the backyard under a bush or in a dog house.
Another common symptom of a fearful dog is destruction. For some dogs, being able to physically exert themselves by destroying something – such as your couch, a newspaper, a toy or another item – can help to lessen their fear. Unfortunately, the more times that this occurs, the more the bad destructive or escapist behaviors can be reinforced as being “approved” outlets for these anxiety issues in dogs. Both destruction and escaping can be dangerous to your dogs, causing physical injury and at the very least, could put your dog in an unsafe situation.
What You Can Do
After speaking with your veterinarian at Dartmouth animal hospital about your concerns, your vet may suggest either training, medication or some of the methods that we are going to list below. If at-home treatments do not help, you may not be able to avoid the medication approach and could have to try more intensive and professional training exercises to help cure the problem. While this might sound expensive and time consuming, it is worth putting forth the effort early on and taking a proactive approach at your next veterinary check-up to avoid injury or loss of your pet.
- SAFE PLACE – One way to help your dog deal with scary noises or fear associated situations is to create a safe place for your dog to go to whenever he hears a noise or experiences a situation that frightens him. This must be a place that he feels is safe – not just what you think should be a safe place for him. Watch where he goes when he’s scared and give him access to that place during thunderstorms or while other fearful stimuli is engaged. A dog scared of loud noises will often claw, chew or tear his way into or out of an area to escape, so making it easy will help reduce some of this negative and destructive behavior.
- DISTRACTION – Some dogs will focus intently on the thing that makes them most fearful, be it a dog scared of loud noises, small children or other animals. Distracting your dog the very moment that he becomes anxious and engaging him in a different activity that will capture his attention can remove that fearful behavior from the situation. The moment your dog alerts you to the noise or situation that makes him fearful, try doing something that he really enjoys, such as playing with a toy or getting a belly rub. Make sure to reward him with treats or praise to show him he did what you wanted him to do in that situation.
Behavior Modification Training
In extreme cases, or situations where dogs might do serious harm to themselves, your veterinarian might recommend something called behavior modification training. Bring up your concerns at your regular veterinary check-up and explain the triggers that cause your dog to act out, run and hide or become destructive. Some of the techniques used by professionals include desensitization and something called counter-conditioning, which can be implemented gradually to teach your dog to respond to sounds and situations in a non-fearful way. However, it is important to note that these techniques should only be applied to anxiety issues in dogs by a professional. If they are not used correctly they will not be effective for a dog scared of loud noises or situations. In fact, they could become worse by reinforcing the fearful behavior.
Speak with one of our trained and experienced veterinary staff members about any anxiety issues in dogs that you are concerned about with your pet. We can help get you on the right path to addressing these issues during a veterinary check-up with the method that is most appropriate for your unique situation. Give us a call at 508-996-3731 to schedule an appointment or to speak with one of our friendly and helpful veterinarians.