A few days ago, when I was walking my dogs, I anticipated a problem as I saw that nearby, construction workers were using hydraulic hammers. As I thought, when we approached them, my dogs started to bark furiously. They pulled on their leashes, ready to attack. I could not blame them. The hammers were so loud that my ears were hurting, which means that theirs, which are much more sensitive, must have been tormented.
Dogs are able to pick up high and low-frequency sounds. My dogs bark when they hear thunder, aircraft flying overhead, my coffee grinder, the hum of the coffee maker or the engine of the car outside the house.
I am lucky because my dogs only bark. Other dogs, and occasionally cats, are so terrified of unknown sounds they react like a person having a panic attack. They shake, pant (their version of sweating), and cannot stay still, and sometimes they lose control of their bladder or bowels. These animals will also make every effort to escape the noise. And as you can imagine, many pet owners are not happy with the arrival of the storm season. Noise—and not necessarily the loudest—can trigger aggressive behavior in some animals.
We do not know precisely why some animals are more sensitive to noise than others. My dogs bark when they hear loud noises, but after a while, they seem to get used to them. During a night storm, they can even fall asleep. For other animals, the fear lasts a lifetime, especially if they experience it when they are very young.
Although a very sensitive hearing may predispose dogs and cats to fear particular sounds, you may also induce them to enjoy music. There are cats that lie on their owner’s lap and purr when they hear the music. I have also heard of “healing sounds”, which is nothing more than the use of music to treat medical conditions in animals.
My pet’s veterinarian told me that, years ago, someone sent him a recording of baroque music that followed the heart rate of a dog. He lent this recording to many of his clients, and some reported that it was helpful in controlling their pet’s stress. One client liked it so much and never returned it.
Behavior modification works for some animals, but not for all. Start by making a recording with all the sounds that frighten your pet. Then, to help the animal get used to the noise, do the following:
- When your pet is doing something he likes, like eating or playing, set the recording at a low volume that will not bother him.
- Do this for several minutes. Repeat twice a day at different times, to get the animal acquainted with the sound.
- Gradually increase the volume until it reaches the actual noise level.
If your pet shows signs of stress, lower the volume. The animal will not learn to appreciate the sound that had previously terrified him, but he can learn not to overreact when he hears it. His life and yours will be much more enjoyable.
There are several ways in which you can help your pet accept loud or annoying sounds.
Avoid the noise. Never take your pet to places where he may be exposed to loud noises, especially if your pet is young.
Create a quiet, safe haven. During times of unavoidable noise (like a thunderstorm), teach your pet to take refuge. A basement, a box or cage with cushions, or even a closet where they feel comfortable may be appropriate.
Zero tolerance. Do not pet or reward an animal experiencing noise phobia. He could realize that by acting in this way he attracts your attention.
Cover the noise. You also can camouflage the noise if you activate the air conditioner, a fan or other equipment that makes a soft and lulling sound. There are also unique CDs that can be used to train your pet.
Forget the punishment. Do not punish your pet for showing fear, even if he loses control of his bladder or bowels. That could cause even more anxiety.
Consider using medication. When the problem is severe, your pet could benefit from anti-anxiety medication. However, before opting for that solution, you should always consult with your vet. ■