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Summer can be a difficult time for dogs who have noise sensitivities. Lawn mowers, loud music, kids playing and of course Fourth of July fireworks can all push a nervous canine to the edge. Sitting down with your dog to explain that the neighbor’s mower isn’t out to get him or that the exploding lights in the sky are not a sign of impending doom isn’t likely to work. Despite the language barrier, though, you can still help your canine overcome his fears.
Many pet owners fail to recognize their dogs’ anxiety in the early stages, and even fewer are likely to seek treatment. Intervention is key, though, because noise anxiety rarely gets better on its own. Ideally, intervention starts early, but even dogs with pronounced fears can often be helped. A combination of desensitization, positive reinforcement and coping techniques can be used to train your dog to be more confident around loud noises.
Begin by consulting with your veterinarian to eliminate any potential underlying health issues that may be contributing to your dog’s fear of noises. Once he has a clean bill of health, there are a variety of strategies you can try with your dog to help him navigate the sounds of summer (and fall and winter, too).
Hear and cheer. Make a game of hearing sounds and responding calmly. Start with neutral sounds your dog notices and is accustomed to, such as the dishwasher or the television. When the sound starts — at the beginning of the washing cycle, for example, or when you first turn the TV on — mark your dog's calm reaction to it with a word or a click and reward him with a highly palatable treat. Once your dog understands the game, begin to mark and reward for calm behavior in response to sounds that typically startle him or provoke a reaction, like the neighbor starting up the lawn mower. Ideally this will change his perception of those sounds — instead of being afraid when he hears the mower, he will look to you for a treat.
Play it. Condition your dog to be comfortable around noises that make him anxious by playing recordings of the noises at a low level. Pair the recording with a positive event, like mealtime or trick training. Keep the volume low enough that your dog does not display any signs of fear. Over time, if your dog remains relaxed, increase the volume. If it’s ever too loud and your dog is acting anxious or fearful, turn the volume down to where the dog is again relaxed and enjoying his treat or meal before ending the session. If possible, always end at a point of success.
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