How to help dogs overcome noise fears
By Mikkel Becker
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Did you discover on Independence Day that your new puppy is fearful of fireworks, or even that your adult dog has a newfound fear of the flash, bang, boom? Puppies can be surprised and startled by the sight and sound of fireworks, and it’s also not unusual for a dog’s fears to increase over time. Eventually, continued exposure results in trembling, howling or destructive behavior that is unexpected, because it never seemed to bother the dog before. A 2015 study in Norway found that fear of noises can increase with age. Female dogs were more likely to develop noise sensitivity than males, and neutered dogs were more at risk than intact dogs.
And it’s not just fireworks. Other sounds that can upset dogs include construction noise, gunshots and sirens. Often, these noises fall outside what the dog considers “normal.” In other cases, the dog may associate the sounds with scary situations from the past. And sometimes fear of certain sounds can be genetic: Breed and parent personality can both be factors. The Norwegian study found that among the 17 breeds looked at, those with the highest frequency of noise sensitivity were the Norwegian buhund, the soft-coated wheaten terrier and the Lagotto Romagnolo.
If fireworks and other loud noises cause your dog to bury his head under the covers, start now to help him learn to become more comfortable with a variety of sounds. Common noises that dogs may encounter at some point in their life include infants crying, helicopters hovering, and children screeching in play. Here’s how to expose your dog to sounds in a way that keeps him relaxed and happy as he stores them in his brain under “nothing to be afraid of.”
Start by introducing the sound at a low level the dog is comfortable with. Keeping it at a distance is a good idea, too. For instance, you can set a blow dryer on low, or turn on the vacuum cleaner, and leave them in another room with the door closed. It’s not always possible to control when or where your dog will hear a sound -- although trash trucks and buses usually operate on a schedule -- so finding or making recordings can help you to manage your dog’s exposure to frightening noises.
Pair the sound with positive experiences such as treats, play or mealtime. That works to change the dog’s emotional response to the sound over time. When he’s in a happy and relaxed state, he’ll be better at learning how to react to the sound. This is also a good exercise to perform with puppies and dogs who don’t have an established fear of noise, because it helps to keep them that way. Early exposure helps increase a dog’s comfort level with noises throughout life.
Slowly increase the intensity of the sound. Think days, not minutes or hours. If you move ahead too quickly, the dog’s fear can intensify. Wait until he remains happy and relaxed at the lowest setting. Watch for signs of discomfort, such as pacing or yawning, and decrease the volume or increase the distance from the noise until he relaxes again. End on a positive note by asking for a favorite trick or playing a game and rewarding him.
Conditioning a dog to have a calm response to loud or unexpected noises takes time. By taking little steps now, you can gradually build a lasting, positive change in your dog’s behavior in the face of fireworks or other sounds that frighten him. By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, you’ll both be better prepared for noisy celebrations. You can find more about managing your dog’s fear of noises at FearFreeHappyHomes.com.
Kitten or cat?
Both have pluses
Q: I’m getting my first cat soon, and I’m wondering if it’s better to get a kitten or an adult cat.
A: There are advantages to each. Here’s what to consider.
The big thing kittens have going for them is that they are so darned cute. Watching them play is better than television. Balancing out the cuteness is their need for supervision and training. It can be exhausting to chase after them and redirect their behavior to more appropriate activities as they climb the curtains, test out their claws on your new sofa, and bounce on your head at 5 a.m. Kittens are endlessly energetic and they may not begin to settle down until they are 2 to 3 years old.
If you’d rather live with a peaceful, gentle cat from the get-go, an adult cat is the right choice. With an adult cat, you know what exactly what you’re getting, whether that’s curious and active, calm and trusting, or friendly and affectionate. Because they are more predictable, you’ll have a better idea of how they will fit into your household. They don’t need the same amount of supervision as kittens, and will happily nap or play with a puzzle toy while you’re at work.
Adult cats have other advantages. They may already be vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Sometimes they already have experience with children or dogs, and take them in stride. An adult cat with family experience is often more mellow and tolerant with children. They are less likely to scratch or bite during play, and they are more sturdy than kittens, who are easily injured. Of course, it’s still important to supervise young children and cats to make sure no one is hurt when they interact.
The best choice for you simply depends on your home life and what you’re looking for in a cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Flame retardants may
affect cat health
-- If your cat has hyperthyroidism, the cause may be flame retardants in the environment. Feline hyperthyroidism, first diagnosed in 1979, is the most common endocrine disease in older cats. In the 40 years since that first case was diagnosed, the prevalence of the disease has risen dramatically. Scientists suspected a link to household flame retardants, introduced in the mid-1970s. In a report published in American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology, researchers used silicone pet tags to measure the exposure of housecats to various flame retardants. (Silicone picks up volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, and wristbands made of the material have been used in previous studies to monitor human exposure to environmental chemicals.) Researchers recruited 78 housecats 7 years and older, half with hyperthyroidism and half without, and gave owners silicone tags to put on their pets. After the cats had worn the tags for seven days, researchers analyzed the silicone and found higher levels of flame-retardant chemicals from the cats with hyperthyroidism. Higher exposures were associated with air freshener use, houses built since 2005, and cats who prefer to nap on upholstered furniture.
-- Redbone coonhounds descend from red hounds brought to the American colonies by settlers from Scotland and Ireland. They are friendly and loyal, with a talent for making people laugh, but they also have an independent spirit and don’t always pay attention to what their humans want. These active dogs are great hiking companions and excel at canine sports such as nosework and tracking. Redbones are best suited to rural homes, where their loud voices won’t annoy the neighbors.
-- Interested in reptiles? Good choices for beginners include ball pythons, corn snakes, bearded dragons and small tortoises or box turtles. These species can be appropriate for both children and adults. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.