Today we lit the log burner for the first time this autumn and, as the wood began to crackle and spit, our dog began to creep out from behind the sofa, tail tucked under, ears back and trembling, desperately trying to open the lounge door and move to another room. He was clearly distressed by the noise.
Interestingly, we live in a rural area where bird scarers and gun shots are heard on a regular basis and Dexter never shows any signs of being fearful. He is relaxed when he hears and sees fireworks and is not anxious during thunderstorms, so why should he be worried about the noise from the log burner?
What could be the possible causes?
- Some dogs have a genetic predisposition for noise sensitivity. If a puppy is not exposed to enough challenges during the sensitive or critical development period, his level of sensitivity to some or all subsequent challenges may remain high into adulthood and he may always be reactive and fearful of novelty, in this case unfamiliar noises.
- Lack of stress immunisation at an early age. Without enough exposure to a variety of normal stimuli during their first four months of life puppies are more likely to be reactive and fearful as adults and this heightened state of anxiety can result in an extreme startle response to noises and the development of noise sensitivities.
- Separation related problems. Dogs that have not been accustomed to periods of isolation or have over attachment problems will be anxious when left alone. Any unusual noise may elicit a fear response which could develop into a very specific noise sensitivity.
- Pain. There is some evidence that fear of loud, sudden or unfamiliar noises could be pain related. If startled, a dog with inflamed joints or muscles may tense causing pain. This acute pain may be associated with the noise and a dog may not only become noise sensitive but also fearful of the place where the pain was initially felt.
- Age. Just like us, as dogs get older their acute senses begin to deteriorate. General background sounds may not be heard as clearly so a loud noise may seem much more amplified and a noise sensitivity could develop.
What can we do?
There are several approaches to treatment of noise sensitivity – pheromone therapy, diet change, body wraps and, in severe cases, medication, but what we shouldn’t lose sight of is that the dog is very fearful and needs to be feel more secure and able to control (to a certain extent) the situation.
It helps if we can provide a ‘den’ for the dog. Using one of the excellent sound cd’s which are now available, we can teach the dog to run to his/her den when he hears a noise and praise and cuddle him/her in the den. That way the dog will have a place of safety to run to and hide in even when we are not around. A den could be the cupboard under the stairs, a crate covered with blankets, under the bed, in a wardrobe … the list is endless, but the den should always be accessible for the dog.