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Go slowly. To help your dog stay relaxed around frightening noises, introduce them at a gradual pace. For example, if your dog is fearful of the vacuum cleaner, have someone else run it in a different room with the door closed while you spend time working with your dog on trick training. As soon as your dog begins to show positive emotions or indifference toward the vacuum noise, the sound can be made a little louder by opening the door a crack. The goal is to get your dog to a place where he can remain calm in the room with the vacuum while it is running, but this may take time.
Keep him focused. Distract your dog by pairing positive things with events that once caused fear. If your dog loves fetch or tug, let the sound of thunder (starting with the recording) be a signal that it’s time to play. Other options are to give your dog a stuffed Kong with highly palatable goodies inside when the noise starts or to focus him on a behavior he enjoys, like trick training with rewards for good behavior. Some dogs best release tension through movement; in this case, walking back and forth with your dog in a covered area while the noise lasts may help him manage his fear.
Minimize the scare factor. Try drowning out scary noises with calming sounds. A white noise device, fan or fountain can provide background noise. At the same time, you can play soothing music, such as classical music or music formulated to calm pets. Some dogs are comforted by petting, being talked to or being held, while others fare better if directed to focus on a task. Do what works best for your dog. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box: Our family has a dog who shakes and trembles when we drive over a rumble strip on the road. To help him cope, we start a group howl when we hit one. It sounds crazy, but it works — he goes from shaking violently to smiling happily in just a few seconds.
Create a safe room. Choose a designated space, ideally in an area your pet is familiar with and willingly enters, like the bathroom, a closet or the basement. Make the space cozy and inviting by placing cushy blankets and a crate inside to provide a hiding space for the dog. Consider spritzing the space with dog-appeasing pheromone to help create an extra sense of calm. You may also want to consider a compression garment like the Thunder Shirt, which can be calming for some dogs.
For severe cases of noise phobia, talk to your veterinarian. In addition to behavior modification, she may recommend medications that you can give your dog before fireworks, thunderstorms and other noisy situations to help reduce his anxiety.
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