How to Ease Your Dog’s Fear of Scary Noises

Booms, cracks, and pops that seem harmless to you may sound like the end of the world to your furry friend. If your dog shakes and trembles during storms, or hides under the bed every Fourth of July, here are some steps you can take to help.

Safety First

Generally, shaking, whining, or pacing are signs something is wrong. Help your dog find their happy place. If you’re at a park when the fireworks start, you may need to make an early exit. If you’re at home, think about the places your dog naturally goes to relax and keep them open for them Don’t use this spot as a punishment place. They may think they have done something wrong if you send them there.  If their safe space is a crate, leave the door open so they don’t hurt themselves trying to get out.

Distract Your Dog

It works best if you do it just as your dog starts to show signs of worry. Play music or use some other white noise to block the scary sounds. Or distract them with a game of fetch or tug. Just don’t keep on if they get worried and can’t focus -- they might learn to connect fun things with the stuff that scares them. Note: Keep an eye on the weather forecast. If storms are on the way, you might notice your dog gets anxious long before the thunder starts. Many pets sense a shift in barometric pressure.

Fight the Fear

Find an audio recording of the sound your dog fears, whether it’s thunder or exploding fireworks. Play it low enough not to bother them. Reward them with a special treat -- one you don’t use for anything else -- for calm behavior. Raise the volume slowly, over several days. Keep giving them the special treat. Let them guide the process. As soon as they shows anxiety, drop the volume and stop for the day.

Ask About Medications

Some mild calming meds -- available at your pet store or by prescription from your vet -- may give them short-term relief. Your vet can help you figure out the best option. In most cases, medication should be a temporary solution and used with other remedies.

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Try Special Products

Several items are available to help calm your pet. One is a tight jacket that feels like a hug to your dog. Rather than you trying to soothe them, which might confuse them, this product allows them to feel calm themselves. You can also get special earmuffs that lessen the sound. Take some time to get them used to any new product. Place it by their bed or food bowl for a while. Then let them wear it for a short time. Try it out before the actual noise occurs.

Bring In the Experts

Always start with your vet to rule out any major emotional or physical causes for your dog’s fear. You may need more support, for example if you’re caring for a rescue dog who has been through some type of trauma. For extreme cases of noise fear you may need to work with an expert known as a veterinary behaviorist. This doctor is trained in animal behavior. They can figure out the root cause of your dog’s fear and prescribe medication if needed.

Here are three don’ts when trying to help your dog with noise phobias:

  1. Don’t baby them. If you fuss over them too much, they may get confused and become more afraid.  Or they could learn that they get extra attention or yummy treats when they are stressed. Act normally. You can play with them, feed or do other fun activities.
  2. Don’t punish them. Do not lock them in a crate or tie them up. They could injure themselves trying to get away from the scary sound. They may also believe they are in trouble for being afraid. Fear is a behavior, not an obedience issue. Your dog isn’t doing anything wrong by being afraid -- even if the noise seems harmless to you.
  3. Don’t force them to gut it out. Making your dog endure the sounds -- especially without trained supervision -- could make things worse. 

Remember, like you, your dog is unique. And just like you, they respond to fear based on their personality and background.

WebMD Veterinary Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 19, 2019

Sources

College of Veterinary Medicine at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: “Help Your Noise-Averse Dogs Through Thunder and Fireworks Season.”

American Kennel Club: “When Things Go Boom – Helping Your Dog Cope with Fear of Loud Noises”

Cummings Veterinary Health Center at Tufts University: “Bang! Bang! Helping Your Dog Manage Noise Phobias,” “Qualifications of our Animal Behaviorists.”

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