Last reviewed on January 21, 2016
I have noticed lately that Maverick stops and stares at certain loud sounds such as motorcycles. I know him well enough to know that if he is alerting to something, he is worried about it. Maverick’s tail wags almost all of the time so when his tail stops wagging, I pay attention.
This small sign is important to me because I treat Noise and Storm Phobia commonly in my practice. For dogs with severe Noise and Storm Phobia, treatment can involve multiple medications, lots of behavior modification, and environmental changes. Could fear of the sound of a motorcycle in an 8-month-old dog eventually morph into Storm Phobia? Sure it could.
Dogs who are storm phobic often are sensitive to noises. There are various levels of reactivity to storms. Storm Phobia usually starts as a simple noise phobia. Then the dog associates the lightning, rain, darkening of the sky, and even the changes in the barometric pressure with the sound of thunder. This leads the dog to consequently become frightened of those things as well. This generally takes years to happen. That is why dogs are most often presented for Storm Phobia in middle age. It just takes time for the disorder to progress to the point where owners are worried about it. Trembling and alert dogs are ignored, but dogs who hurt themselves jumping out of a second story window during a storm get help.
When dogs with noise sensitivity and noise fear are caught early and treated, often the disorder can be arrested in that early stage, never progressing to Storm Fear. I don’t want Maverick to progress any further than where he is now, so I am working hard to stop the noise sensitivity in its tracks.
I am using classical counter conditioning to treat his mild anxiety. This method is easy to execute. Whenever Maverick reacts to any sound with anything less than an "I don’t care" attitude, I get very excited and hand him a treat. I repeat this process every 1-2 seconds until Maverick no longer looks at the thing that is making the sound. Already, after doing this for a very short time, I can see that his emotional state is starting to change. When he hears a motorcycle, he looks for just a second and then looks back at me like, "Where is my cheese?"
The second way that I am treating this problem is to react differently during a storm. When there are storms, we turn the music up very loud and we immediately give Maverick a food toy so that he will associate storms with good things. We usher him into the room where we have the music turned up so that he learns to be independent from us during this time.
Finally, we are protecting him from situations in which there is no problem now, but which could be a problem later. For example, when we recently went out for fireworks, we left Maverick in his crate, which he loves. We turned the music up very loudly and gave him a couple of toys stuffed with canned food. Even though he hadn’t had a reaction to fireworks yet, I wanted to make sure that he didn’t start.
Take a close look at your puppy. Are there times when he is stressed, even just a little? Now, in puppyhood, is the time to act; not when he has chewed through your walls on the 4th of July.
Dr. Lisa Radosta