Noise phobia is sadly very common and has to be one of the most distressing emotional conditions and incredibly detrimental to our dogs' welfare. And it can happen to ANY puppy! It just takes one experience that a young dog perceives as frightening and it can stay with them for a lifetime. Noise sensitivities often generalise to any and all unpredictable noises, until they don't feel safe and relaxed anywhere and it becomes a full-blown phobia. Treatment can often require extensive work with a Clinical Animal Behaviourist, medication, and a large investment of money and effort on your part. With most phobias, triggers can be predictable and avoidable to some extent. But with noise phobia, that's not the case. Noises are often completely unpredictable and unavoidable, affecting their walks that should be the highlight of their day, and worst of all, affecting the one place they should feel completely safe and secure - their home. Some breeds and individuals are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to noises. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your Gundog breed won't be one of them! There is a substantial genetic component with noise sensitivities which does suggest that as our Gundog breeds are designed to work closely around gunshot, they SHOULD be genetically predisposed to resilience around noise. HOWEVER, this implies that every person who breeds Spaniels, Labradors, and other Gundog breeds understands this, cares about this, and knows what they are doing, which most definitely is not the case. AND, even if your puppy has come from dogs who are confident around gunshot, they are an individual and still at risk of developing a noise phobia. So, if this is your puppy's first or second firework season, I strongly suggest that you assume they WILL be fearful so you can do everything you can to dilute the experience for them, ensuring a stress-free time that will lay the foundations for fear-free firework seasons for the rest of their days! Here are some do's and don'ts for the next week or so... DO…
have tasty food on you at all times and scatter tiny pieces on the floor after every bang you hear. Unpredictable bang = good stuff!
make unpredictable noises throughout the day (e.g., drop a spoon on a hard floor) then immediately scatter some tasty food so when the unpredictable bangs start happening this weekend, it’s not such a big deal.
close the curtains on an evening and keep the tv on a bit louder to dilute the bangs.
stock your freezer with Kongs stuffed with tasty food for them to enjoy on an evening.
stay up a little later than normal so they are not left to process the bangs on their own, or spend the night with them.
comfort them calmly and quietly if they want some support.
leave the radio on for them at bedtime.
listen to anyone that tells you that comforting your puppy will teach them to be fearful. It's a load of rubbish.
risk taking them for a walk after dark.
take the “I’ll just wait see what happens” approach.
go out to watch a firework display and leave them home alone.
Good luck puppies!
Liz Whelan GTA-AD 020 ABTC-ATI Owner of DogScentric Accredited Instructor with the Gundog Trainers Academy (GTA-AD 020) Accredited Animal Training Instructor with the ABTC (ABTC-ATI) FdSc Canine Behaviour and Training (Hull University)