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Preventing Noise Phobia

A puppy’s sensitive period is between 4- 16 weeks of age. The sensitive period for socialization is one in which puppies are most easily socialized to stimuli. A sensitive period is a time when a small amount of work or no work at all can have a large impact on the dog’s future behavior. While older dogs can be socialized, it is much more difficult after 16 weeks of age. At 8 weeks of age, the fear reaction is fully developed; however, sociability outweighs fear until the puppy is roughly 16 weeks of age. This phenomenon makes it easier for puppies to be introduced to frightening stimuli without permanent fear setting in than it would if they were older. If a puppy is not exposed to new stimuli between 4 and 26 weeks, she is more likely to be fearful of those stimuli.

Socialization doesn’t mean simply expose the puppy to all stimuli without reinforcements. The exposure has to cause positive conditioning and should promote confident, calm behavior.

There are a number of possible contributing factors that affect the reaction to noise, including inadequate socialization or genetic predisposition. Noise phobia may arise spontaneously or following a fearful event, though often a specific cause cannot be identified.

Preventing noise phobia should be a part of any training program and includes several steps
Audio desensitization which is using a pre-recorded sound. Begin by playing the sound, such as thunder, at a level where you barely know it’s on. Go about your normal day with your pet, playing, eating, resting, and allow the sound to continue. At such a low sound your pet may not even know it’s playing; if they seem agitated lower the sound a small amount. Once the audio sound is playing and it is not noticed increase the volume in very small increments and again go about your normal day. You should be able to slowly work the volume up to a realistic sound. Always back the sound down if any signs of anxiety are exhibited.

Establishing a conditioned response to a location, such as a mat near the owner. Practice the conditioned response technique on a daily basis and make it a normal expected routine. Place the mat near you, on the floor if you’re on the sofa or at your feet if you’re at your desk. Have your pet come sit and if possible lie down on the mat and give them a treat filled enrichment toy that they only get when on their mat. If they stand up or leave encourage them with their treat to once again sit on their mat and relax. The mat becomes the safety zone and can be moved and taken anywhere you travel. Next practice using this “safe” location while playing the pre-recorded sound.

Environmental management includes allowing the pet to have a “safe place” where they can be immobile, such as a crate, a closet or an interior bathroom. Help drown out the offensive sound with a radio, T.V., fan or a white noise machine, all at a calming tone.

There are a few don’ts when we are discussing sound phobias:

  • DO NOT punish your pet for their unwanted behavior. They are panicked and if you punish them you will teach them not only to be afraid of the sound but also to be afraid of you.
  • DO NOT entice your pet into your lap or coddle them. While coddling may seem like the most loving thing to do, in the long run, it will actually worsen your pet’s behavior. First, it teaches your pet that YOU are the only person that will keep them safe when they are frightened. Unfortunately, you will not always be there during a frightening situation. Second, coddling doesn’t give your pet any instructions on how to feel safe. As a result they will never learn the tools that they need to feel calm

References:
Before & After Getting You Puppy – Dr. Ian Dunbar
Help for Your Shy Dog – Deborah Wood
Excel-Erated Learning – Pamela J. Reid Ph. D.