How To Help Dogs Stay Calm During Noisy Events

Sound-sensitive dogs benefit from training that conditions a calmer response to perceived noises outside their natural comfort zone. Here’s how to get started.

Prep your pooch with positive exposure to sounds. Exposure for exposure’s sake can backfire and increase fear in the future, especially if the dog is forced to face the scary sound scenario at full exposure. A better approach is to provide gradual exposure paired with positives to change the dog’s emotional response over time.

  • Select noises to expose your dog to, such as thunder or gunshots. If these sounds are common in your area, this can help to increase his comfort with a variety of sounds.
  • Expose your dog to noises in a manner that allows him to stay relaxed and happy throughout the process.
  • Pets benefit from veterinary oversight of noise sensitivity. The pet’s veterinary team can work in partnership with a veterinary behaviorist or reward-based trainer for more advanced help.

Controlled Exposure

  • When introducing a sound, keep the intensity at a level that’s comfortable for the dog. Gradually increase intensity of sound as your dog becomes comfortable with different levels.
    • If the situation becomes too much for the dog to handle, the efforts can intensify the dog’s fearful reactions.
  • Using the actual sound-causing stimulus for exposure sessions is sometimes possible but not always.
    • If using the actual noise-producing stimulus, start at low intensity by controlling variables such as volume and distance from the sound source.
    • For instance, set a hair dryer on a low setting or run a vacuum cleaner in another room with the door closed.
  • More often than not, noises are outside of the realm of a person’s ability to fully control. Recordings of selected exposure sounds offer a more controlled exposure process.

Positive Pairings With Sound

  • Start with the sound played at the lowest volume, or play it from another room to reduce the risk of creating a starting point that is too great for your dog to tolerate calmly.
    • Remember, the turtle wins the race. Gradual progress goes much faster than pushing too far at too fast a rate and stressing your dog.
    • Dogs are more likely to have a positive emotional reaction if the sound is introduced gradually and paired with pleasurable occurrences such as mealtime, treats, play or attention.
    • Increase the intensity of the sound only if your dog remains comfortable. The process may take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the dog
  • Supervise your dog during sound recordings and pay attention to body language to ensure he’s comfortable. If the dog displays signs of discomfort, decrease volume or increase distance from the noise. End on a positive note, such as performing tricks for treats or playing a game.

Unleash The Power Of Tricks

  • Reward-based training does more than just teach better manners and tricks; it provides a common language that allows you to communicate consistently with your pet. Utilize the power of reward-based training during noise preparation and noise events to redirect the dog’s focus.
    • Trick practice focuses your dog’s attention on a known activity that’s productive and fun. Cue your dog to perform favorite tricks and reward him with tasty treats and other enjoyable forms of reinforcement. The goal is for the dog to remain happy and focused.
  • Dogs who are overly stressed may become slow to listen or reluctant to perform known behaviors. They aren’t being disobedient, but are reacting to stress. When overly upset or scared, dogs (and people, too) are less able to think rationally. They may temporarily “forget” things they know or be less able to focus on what they’re doing.
    • Be prepared with other calming steps discussed in advance with your pet’s veterinarian.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT