Meet Olive: Olive is a 6-year-old female spayed Corgi who is fearful of thunderstorms. Olive is the perfect dog in all other senses, well behaved, great with other dogs and people, loves going to breweries, on hikes, and belly rubs. She gets into mischief, as Corgis do, and most recently decided to take a self-guided tour of Athens, Georgia only to be thwarted by local PD. Olive’s mom is a close friend of mine who’s a veterinarian and despite Olive’s perfect upbringing she developed a noise phobia to thunderstorms.
A noise phobia is an irrational, intense and persistent fear response that can develop at any age and in any dog breed. It is a learned behavior that can have a genetic link that is not well understood in the veterinary community. It has long been recognized that anxiety-related conditions become apparent or worsen as the dog moves through social maturity
For some dogs, there is nothing that causes more stress and panic than a passing thunderstorm, or a fireworks celebration. Owners who own dogs that have noise phobias know the stress that these sounds can cause their dog and themselves! Well, you are not alone, there are so many families that own a dog with noise phobias. Not sure if your dog has a noise phobia? Well, if you find your dog hiding in your closet or bathroom during a thunderstorm, chewing on his or herself during a fireworks display, urinating in the house when a truck backfires, or drooling, panting, pacing, trembling, and shaking are all signs that your dog may be suffering from a noise phobia.
If you believe that your dog is suffering from a noise phobia, first check with your primary care veterinarian or a board-certified animal behavior specialist. There is no cure for a phobia but there are modifications and medications that can be utilized to make your pet more comfortable. Creating a “safe space” for your pet such as a comfortable crate, has worked for many pet owners in addition to environmental modification during the event. Turing up the volume of the TV up during a thunderstorm, or turning on music or fans during a fireworks display to attempt to drown out the outside noises. Some dogs respond well to constant pressure from products such as thunder shirts, this works a lot like a weighted blanked for humans. In addition to these behavioral modifications, desensitization and counter conditional can be integrated into your routine. Desensitization is defined as “gradual exposure to the stimulus or sound at a level below where the patient reacts; the sound volume is slowly increased over days or weeks as the dog continues to not react.” Counter-conditioning is defined as “rewarding the dog for not reacting by offering a stimulus such as a food treat that competitively interferes with dog’s ability to react” per the American College of Veterinary Behavior
Petting a dog and telling them “it’s okay” is what most owners gut instinct is when these events occur as this is the behavior that we use to sooth other humans. However, this can be counter intuitive to the goal of soothing your pet. Petting stimulates your dog and does not result in soothing behavior and telling them “it’s okay” links that phrase to the anxiety ridden event and not to something that is indeed okay.
Sometimes, at home modification are not enough and medications for these phobias are needed. Your primary care veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medications that can be given before or during an event to help your pet feel more comfortable. These medications can cause sedation, or overall decrease anxiety during events. These medications range from tablets to gels and there is no “one” magic medication that works for all pets, sometimes it requires a few trial runs of different medications before you and your veterinarian are able to find the medication that works best for you and your pet. It can be a long process! Olive has found relief with dosing of Trazodone, an anti-anxiety medication that causes sedation. This medication is given to her prior to a thunderstorm or at the beginning of one with some cheese or peanut butter and results in no more hiding in the shower or closet! Let your pets be like Olive, let them find relief from stressful noises.