Noise or Storm Phobia in Dogs
No doubt, families dealing with noise or storm phobia face some true challenges. We want help by encouraging you to explore and learn as much as you can. To that end, this post has a wide variety of options (you didn’t know there would be so many options!) for helping dogs with these phobias. We hope you’ll take ideas that appeal to you and keep trying.
General Tips for Dealing with Noise or Storm Phobia
There are no “one size fits all” answers. Just because something did or didn’t work for your sister’s dog, doesn’t mean your dog will be the same.
Have patience, (don’t roll your eyes!) this is important.
Carefully observe your pet during stressful times. What is going on, what do see?
When you try to calm your pet, keep a record of what you are trying and your dog’s response. And keep trying the same thing for a few times—it takes time for a dog to adjust to something new. Having a clear record of behavior will help you start to see patterns.
Don’t be afraid to try something new either if you feel you aren’t getting anywhere with your dog’s storm phobia or noise phobia. Go slowly with new techniques.
Often our instinct is to throw 14 different things at a problem in hopes of solving it quickly. The result? At best, how do you know what worked? At worst, an overwhelmed dog and further stressed out pet parent.
Create a “Comfort Zone”
Create a space for your dog that is just theirs. Some place they can go for quiet and relaxation.
Most of us have that for our dogs, but the problem is where. It might be in an upstairs bedroom or the living room. During thunderstorms, your dog may do better in an interior room without windows. Basements may lessen negative things like flashes of light and claps of thunder.
Think about where you can create alternative “comfort zones” for your dog that will be quieter and less noisy. Remember, you can’t just suddenly dump your dog in a basement or bathroom every time it rains. That is scary and confusing. Create your dog’s “comfort zones” well ahead of any storms or fireworks. Then when the time comes, inviting your dog to his “comfort zone” provides that calm, relaxing environment he needs.
Tips for Creating a “Comfort Zone”
Try a kennel with closed sides or put a blanket over wire kennels to reduce unwanted light and noise. If you are home and can stay with your dog, it may be best to leave the kennel door open. You don’t want your dog to feel trapped.
In addition to the covered kennel, his favorite chew toy may help release some tension. Or bring out an extra special treat.
Consider playing classical music or calming music during times of stress. (Or even on a regular basis. We routinely play music for our boarding dogs.)
Distract Your Dog
This one isn’t fool proof. Distractions only work if you are home, it’s not the middle of the night, and your dog has a low to moderate stress level from storms or noises. For severe cases, distractions probably won’t work. There is no use in forcing your dog to try to play.
Common distraction ideas: play a game, work on tricks or review a variety of obedience commands, offer an interactive food toy/puzzle, anything just to have fun.
The Owner’s Role
We know this is difficult. It can be frustrating to feel you can’t do anything to help your pet. We do want to remind all pet owners that you, as the human, set the tone for what is going on around your dog. If you are high strung, that can rub off on your dog.
Ever wonder, “How do they know I’m taking them to the vet today?” From you! We may not realize it, but we are giving off subtle clues to them that “something’s up”.
When it comes to being able to calm your dog, ask yourself “Am I calm?” And how are you showing that to your dog? Take an honest, an objective step back at your own behavior.
We are NOT implying that you or any pet owner is the source of their pet’s storm phobia. Not at all. But, we do know that you play a critical role in the emotions of your pet. Your body language, your movements, your tone of voice—this all matters.
Wearables That Reduce Anxiety
There are several options on the market. We will be honest, not all of these work for every dog. (We are not affiliated with any of these products and get no kickbacks from mentioning them.)
The concept behind these wearables is good. Pro Tip: try any of these before a storm so you and your dog are used to the routine. You need to get the shirt on well before a storm or noises hit, so timing is one drawback to their use.
Thundershirt. This is the most common wearable. Some of our staff use these for their own pets. The idea behind the Thundershirt is to place pressure around the chest and back with a snug fitting wrap. Think of it like swaddling a newborn baby and the calming effect that has.
The Storm Defender. We don’t have experience with this, but the idea is solid. They do have a few research studies to back up that the product works. The Storm Defender is also a “shirt”, but the purpose is to eliminate the static charge that can build up on the dog during storms. Some researchers suspect this low-level voltage may create a tingling feeling and perhaps is one of the culprits in dog anxiety.
Calmz. This product is similar to the Thundershirt in that it offers pressure around key parts of the body, but it also introduces music, calming noises, and even vibrations as a way to calm the dog. Combining the acupressure of the wrap with low-level positive distractions is a great option.
The Gentle Leader. This is something we normally think of to help make walking your dog easier, but many of us find that placing the Gentle Leader (or headcollar) on the dog has a calming effect during stressful situations. (Note: this comfort doesn’t happen overnight. You have to get the dog used to wearing it. They often fight it initially, but they adjust quickly. It does wonders for making walking easier.)
Alternative or Complementary Medicine
There is much potential here and so many choices. Flower Essences, Medicinal Herbs, Aromatherapy, Essential Oils, just to name a few. Unfortunately, scientific testing is not wide spread so the jury is still out on what is really worth trying.
Many veterinarians, including ours, are open to the idea of complementary and alternative medicine. Please check with us first to be sure it is safe. Just because it is safe for you, doesn’t mean it is safe for your dog (think chocolate).
Another issue here, most human and animal doctors lack the experience and proper training to use these natural remedies effectively. We also have questions about the quality and consistency of these products. There are not controls for the purity of the ingredients, the strength of them, or how they are processed (which may weaken the properties).
One caution on aromatherapy, dog’s noses have 811 Olfactory Receptor (OR) genes. Humans have 396 OR genes. The more olfactory receptor genes you have, the better your sense of smell. This means go easy on the drops and essential oils—dogs (and cats) are going to smell it much more than we do. Think about it–why do the police and military use dogs to sniff out drugs or bombs?
DAP or Dog Appeasing Pheromones are growing in popularity. The pheromone is an artificial version of pheromones from the nursing mother. They can be effective, are relatively inexpensive, and don’t require you to do much—just buy it and plug in the diffuser. DAP also comes in collars, sprays, and wipes. There is no odor to us, but your dog can detect it and it should help them relax. You can buy these from your vet, online, or at most pet stores.
Tellington TTouch is a specific way of massage and hands-on work with your dog (or other animals) to relieve stress and anxiety. The idea is great, but be sure your dog enjoys it. And, not every owner will do the technique properly. Read up on it, give it a go, but most of all watch your dog’s behavior closely. Are they relaxing and truly enjoying? Or are they merely tolerating it, too polite to “speak out”?
This would be something to practice in times of calm. Then introduce it in times of stress. And while it isn’t the same thing as TTouch, just a good ol’ fashion belly rub can work wonders. (Or not. It just depends on the dog.)
Behavior Modification and Desensitization
You may need to consult a trained behaviorist to get you started and help you through the process. For severe cases of anxiety, you will need to make a significant commitment time wise, financially, and emotionally, to make progress. It will not be easy, but it is something to give consideration to for long-term change.
If your dog has no signs of anxiety or very little, try working to desensitize your dog to certain noises. Search the internet for noises known to bother dogs (e.g., thunder, fireworks, babies crying). Play them at low volume while playing a fun game or offering treats to your dog. Little by little, you can increase the volume. The result is to get your dog used to hearing random and even loud noises without fear or anxiety.
Start Early With Your Puppy or Young Dog!
Fear, stress, and anxiety from storms or noises are not common in puppies or younger dogs. Issues seem to develop over time, around 3-4 years of age or later. Start early and get your puppy or young dog accustomed to noises he will inevitably hear in his life.
During a storm or fireworks, offer treats or great positive interaction with your puppy. They will learn these noises aren’t bad (e.g., I get treats and extra play time when they happen!) Starting on a good note may prevent noise or storm phobia down the road.
We use sounds like babies crying, fireworks, thunder, and a few other noises playing in the background of our puppy preschool classes.
Everyone “tunes it out”, but that’s the point! Then when the real thing is happening, the hope is puppy will continue to “tune it out.”
We certainly recommend doing as many non-drug related avenues first, but sometimes that is not enough. Combining the above ideas and a prescription drug may be necessary for your dog to find true comfort.
We know many clients don’t want to “drug their dog.” And we don’t want to do that unnecessarily either. What we see, that you don’t get to, are the many dogs that truly benefit from the occasional use of a safely prescribed drug.
There are several options to choose from. We commonly use Acepromazine and the new gel, Sileo.Work with your veterinarian, who knows your dog’s complete history, to try one to see how it works for your dog. And remember, every dog is unique and prescription drugs are most definitely NOT one size fits all. Your veterinarian will help pick what is best and safest for your dog.
For More Resources on Noise or Storm Phobia
We can’t say enough about Dr. Patricia McConnell. She has an entire page devoted to all her articles on storm phobia and noise issues.
Victoria Stillwell has numerous articles on her website dealing with fireworks and storm phobias.