I thought I would take a moment to talk about noise aversion in dogs. There is a wealth of information out there and a host of products on the market that can offer some aid.
In severe cases, I have read about dogs who are so panicked by the noises of thunderstorms or fireworks that they will jump through windows or sliding glass doors to try to escape what frightens them. In the greater majority of cases, the dogs will seek a quiet and secluded place in the house to hide, or they will sit on or near you and shiver. Some dogs will even exhibit destructive behaviors in the house (eating shoes, digging holes in the furniture and the carpets, destroying phones and tv remotes).
Addressing fearful behaviors. You might react by yelling at the dogs or punishing them for barking or exhibiting fearful behaviors. This is not a good idea at all. It will only give them something more tangible to associate with what already makes them feel fearful. The fear they have of the noise will be compounded by the fear of any consequences they get from demonstrating that fear.
The other side of the coin is harder to avoid. When we see our beloved dogs shivering, we want to hold them and pet them and console them. That is our natural instinct as humans. However, if we offer consolation and affection in response to fearful behaviors, all we are doing is reinforcing that there is in fact something for them to be afraid of. This form of positive reinforcement will only make them react more fearfully and not seek ways to pacify or calm themselves, and it could also make the problem worse with time. Both of these extremes in addressing the fearful behaviors of our dogs can lead to worsening of the problem.
What the dog really needs is for us to make less of the situation than it is. We need to divert their attention or make a routine that will make them see that things are completely normal and under control. Try playing a game with them or snuggling on the sofa with them during a thunderstorm. Just make sure that you divert them first, and reward a positive act with the affection or play. Do not pick them up and snuggle them on the sofa as they are cringing or shivering at the window. Call them away from the window and have them sit or otherwise respond positively to a command first. Then reward that behavior with the affection or play. At least that is what the books say to do. I found something better.
What worked for us Living in the South Loop with Lake Michigan just out my window, we have the pleasure of beautiful fireworks displays that are visible from the window. We can see the fireworks from Navy Pier and from Soldier Field, both from the terrace. This would be such a bonus if not for my poor Leo’s aversion to the noise. He barks incessantly at the noises and lights (even more vehemently than he does at a regular lightning storm), and he sits on my foot and shivers.
We tried the herbal pills. They did nothing. We tried Benadryl. It did nothing. We tried the vest that holds him snugly to give him security. He hated that. You will not believe what worked. He attended fireworks shows in the park in his youth in NJ, and they did not go well. He yelled and hovered to the ground and pulled me to get home.
Safety in numbers. The July 4th holiday fireworks can be the worst. However, this past year, we brought Leo to a friend’s house in the suburbs, and we hung out in her yard with a few other dogs. It must have been a case of safety in numbers. He was not nearly as fearful. It was amazing to witness. One other dog is obviously not sufficient to allay fears, but being in a crowd of dogs who are not afraid seemed to do the trick.
I will attempt to foster the same environment for him next year. If we do not have the same barbecue at the same friend’s house as this year, I will enlist as many neighbors in the building as I can to make a pack around my Leo. Maybe I will encourage them to leave the dogs with me when they go about their social events, or maybe I will make a social event interesting enough to make the neighbors come with their dogs.
There isn’t one quick-fix for all dogs. Some dogs could not care less about noises around them. Some dogs respond well to the holistic herbal remedies. The comforting snug vest works for some other dogs. There are plug-ins for the house that give off holistic herbal or hormonal calming scents, and those might work for some dogs. There are all kinds of products you can buy. In the case of my Leo, what works best costs nothing: what helped him was seeing that other dogs are not as fearful, so he could understand that the noise is not something to be so afraid of.
Jill Aronson is a former SLDogPAC board member. She lives in the South Loop with her dog Leo. ©2012 Jill Aronson.