Some dogs quake when they hear any loud sounds. This can often occur even when the dog has no traumatic association with that sound.
Some dog’s reaction to loud noises is to escape the noise at any cost. Other dogs become destructive. Either reaction could result in physical injury to your dog or you.
Helping your dog overcome the fear of loud noises is important. Left untreated, the dogs fear of the noise will get worse. Dogs who are afraid of thunder may later become afraid of sirens, loud cars, or even the sound of the television.
How can you help your dog overcome this fear?
The first step is to create a safe place for your dog when the triggering noise occurs. It is important that this is a place that your dog considers safe (not one that you consider safe). If the location is reasonable (i.e. under your bed, inside the house, behind the couch), allow the dog to go to this location.
Alternatively, you can create a safe place for your dog. Make sure the place is small (just big enough for your dog), dark, and shielded from the triggering sound. You can use a fan or radio near this location to mask the noise. Give your dog free access to this location and give them a treat occasionally when they go this location. Make this location a pleasant place for your dog. Do NOT attempt to confine the dog to this location. This will further increase their fear.
The second method of helping your dog overcome their fear of loud noises is distraction. This works best when the dog is just beginning to get anxious. Capture your dog’s attention in any activity that distracts them from the fearful behavior. Start a game of fetch; go on a walk with your dog, or other enjoyable activity.
If the triggering noise increases in volume or frequency, distraction may not always be effective. If this occurs, stop the enjoyable activity, to continue would only reinforce the fearful behavior.
The second method of dealing with noise fear / phobia is making a visit to the veterinarian. Explain the situation to the vet. Sometimes the vet will prescribe a mild tranquilizer for use when a storm approaches. I would not recommend this method, since it just mutes the problem and does not make it go away.
The third and last method is behavior modification. This involves counter-conditioning and desensitization. You must take these methods very gradually. They are used to basically condition your dog to respond in non-fearful ways to a previously triggering sound.
You start by slowly increasing the volume of a triggering noise and pairing it with enjoyable experiences like games or treats. The key here is the word slowly. Back down on the volume of the triggering noise when the dog becomes excessively fearful. Restart again at another time, again slowly increasing the volume and associating it with a pleasant experience in your dog’s mind. Be patient with this method. To increase the volume or intensity of the triggering sound too quickly can make the situation worse, so be careful with this technique.