If your pet suffers from noise phobia, you probably cringe every time thunderstorms are forecast. Instead of celebrating the Fourth of July, you probably dread this firecracker-filled holiday.
Dogs in particular, with their keen sense of hearing, often suffer from noise phobia and their frightened behavior can be stressful for their owners as well. As if your pet’s trembling and barking weren’t bad enough, you probably have to deal with the dirty looks of your neighbors who have to endure Fido’s barking, whining, and howling when a truck backfires or a thunderstorm develops. You may also find your home destroyed by his neurotic reaction – chewed furniture, dirtied carpeting, and shredded tissues.
Both cats and dogs may become nervous and desperately try to escape under the couch or hide anyplace where they feel they can seek refuge. Dogs may try to soothe themselves by chewing on household items or even on themselves. Cats may scratch anything available, including your sofa or wallpaper. If your pet’s extremely nervous, he may even vomit or suffer from diarrhea. So don’t jump to the conclusion that your pet is simply being spiteful when you return home to find the house in disarray. It may be that he was traumatized by noise. If you four-footed best friend occasionally causes such destruction when left alone, think about it. What was the weather like during your absence? Check with you neighbors to see if they heard anything unusual (i.e. firecrackers, a car backfiring) while you were gone. Don’t blame your pet for being spiteful – he just might be suffering from noise phobia.
PREVENTING THE PROBLEM
If you’re the owner of a new puppy or kitten, it’s up to you to prepare your pet for the noises in our human world. The best method of noise training is to gradually introduce your young pet to unexpected noise. He might be surprised if you clap together two pieces of wood, but if it’s followed by a great deal of praise and a short play period, he’ll become more confident and be less apprehensive the next time he hears this sound.
After your pet reacts calmly to the noise of the wood, gradually increase the noise level by hitting the wood harder until no visible signs of fear are noticed. He’s now ready to graduate to the clanging of pots and pans. Here, again, start at a low level, then gradually progress to a louder level until you don’t see any reaction. This exercise is not as time-consuming as you might think. After all, banging pots and pans is easy when you’re in the kitchen preparing meals.
By properly exposing your pet at a young age, normal fears that could create a neurotic or even psychotic animal may be avoided. Owners of puppies should also incorporate trips to the park, to shopping centers, and to schoolyards into their pet’s socialization program. This early socialization will help build your pet’s confidence.
RESOLVING NOISE PHOBIAS
If your pet already suffers from noise phobia, know that this problem can be resolved – and without the use of tranquilizers. Tranquilizers simply mask the problem instead of correcting it. And remember, you may not always be there to administer them when a sudden storm (or any noise) occurs.
Instead, turn your radio on at a reasonably high volume (without disturbing your neighbors). This constant noise level during a thunderstorm (or any noise) will help drown out the sound, thus calming your pet. If you must be away from home and thunderstorms are predicted, be sure to leave your radio on when you leave the house.
If you’re home during a storm (or any other noise), soothe and reassure your pet when he’s frightened or divert his attention by playing his favorite game. Don’t go overboard with the attention, though. After all, you won’t always be able to be around to soothe him. It’s best to act reassuring yet behave as if nothing is wrong. And don’t act anxious – our pets are quick to pick up on our own anxieties!
If you have a particularly nervous pet, use a recording of a thunderstorm or fire works (or whatever noise sets him off) to desensitize him. Sound effects records and tapes are available at most larger record stores or online. Start off by playing the recording at a low volume. Once your pet shows no reaction to the recording, you may gradually increase the volume. Play it every day at this volume until he shows no visible reaction. Again, increase the volume and follow the same procedure. Continue to do this each day, until you’re playing the recordings at full volume and your pet is paying absolutely no attention to the sound.
The key to relieving your pet’s sensitivity to outside noises is to do it very gradually. Don’t rush, for if you do, you may seriously traumatize him and create a much worse neurosis. Through patience and consistency you can overcome your pet’s anxiety. It may take several weeks or even months, but isn’t being able to alleviate your pet’s suffering worth it?
Warren Eckstein, host of The Pet Show, is an internationally known pet and animal expert. Warren has devoted over thirty years to teaching both pets and their people to live happily together through his unique “Hugs and Kisses” approach to animal behavior, care and training.
Warren has worked with more than 40,000 pets including those of many well-known celebrities. David Letterman, Cheryl Tiegs, Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Ferraro, Al Pacino, Rodney Dangerfield, and Phylicia Rashad are just a few of many whom Warren has helped with pet problems.