Is your dog afraid of noises like thunderstorms or the vacuum cleaner? This rather common and can be very difficult for your dog to overcome. It takes a lot of time and patience to help a dog overcome his fear of certain noises. Here are a few good tips to help you help your dog in this process.
Socialization is actually a preventative rather than a treatment. By showing your puppy to all sorts of sights, places, sounds, and people when he is young, he may never become afraid of these things. When Maya was a puppy, I purposely ran the vacuum with her nearby and sometimes used the vacuum in a fun way which made her think it was a game. Now, Maya has no problem with the vacuum cleaner and even gets excited when she sees it.
Ignore the Issue
This may sound rather harsh, but it can actually be rather affective. If you do not react in either a negative or positive way to the loud noise, your dog may learn that perhaps the loud noise is no big deal. The worst thing you can do is scold your dog for being afraid. He may learn to associate the loud noise with you getting angry which, of course, will only heighten his fear. Likewise, never soothe your dog either. Your dog doesn’t understand your words so he doesn’t know you are telling him there is nothing to be afraid of. All he sees is you protecting him from the loud noise, which in turn reinforces the issue that there is something to be afraid of.
Desensitization is similar to socialization in that you have to get your dog used to the sound in order to help them not be afraid of it. However, socialization is done before the dog learns to be afraid while desensitization is done after a dog has shown that he is already afraid. With desensitization, you want to introduce the sound in a controlled environment and only a little at a time. If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, for example, consider a buying a CD with sounds of thunder. Have the volume low at first and play it only for a short time. If your dog shows to be afraid, you can either ignore him or use the association method indicated below. Do this over a several day or week period until your dog no long pays any attention to it. Then increase the volume slightly and extend the time that it plays. Again, when he gets used to it, increase again. This process should take several weeks or even months. Don’t take shortcuts by starting out at a high volume. You don’t want to stress your dog and cause health and/or anxiety issues.
With association, you help your dog learn that the sound is the signal for something fun. With Maya, she learned that the vacuum cleaner was the signal for play time. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you play with your dog with the vacuum cleaner as this can inhibit your cleaning process. But there are other ways you can help your dog learn to associate the vacuum with something fun. My other dog Sephi was terrified of the vacuum cleaner even when it was turned off. So I set the vacuum in the middle of the floor, turned off, and put treats on it. Every once in a while, Sephi would get brave and take the treat off the vacuum cleaner. When she did, I praised her lavishly. When I turned the vacuum on, I would occasionally throw a treat for Sephi to get. If she was far away, I would throw the treat half-way between myself and her. As her bravery increased, I threw the treat closer to myself and the vacuum. After many months of working with her, Sephi learned that the vacuum meant treats and she was no longer afraid of it. She would stand very near at hand while I vacuumed and wait for a treat to fall so she can snatch it. Nowadays, she completely ignores the vacuum. Association works with play too. If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, play with him to distract him from the noise. Eventually, he will learn that thunderstorms mean play time.
There is no quick fix for getting your dog used to loud noises. Helping your dog get used to loud noises, or at least less stressed over loud noises, can take a long time. But with time, patience, and positive reinforcement training, it can be done. Some dogs may take longer than others, but never give up. An unstressed dog is a happy and healthy dog.