Loud Noises Dog

Strange Noises In The Night

Morgan: The question for this week: “Loud noises freak my dog out – is this a problem? What should I do?”

Mike: Well yes, I think it kind of is a problem, because dogs that are jumpy and spooky around loud noises are going to be jumpy and spooky around other things. And also, little toddlers and infants make lots of strange, loud noises – from crying and throwing things around to who knows what.

So yes, any kind of sudden, jumpy phobias are something that we want to deal with right away.

So, the way to approach this is first of all to figure out what noises in particular do it. For some dogs, it’s the sound of a jingling dog tag outside in the street that makes them crazy, because they know there’s another dog out there. Or with some dogs, it’s firecrackers on the 4th of July.

So, the first thing to do is to make an inventory of the things that bother your dog. And then, really, the only way to deal with anxiety in a systemic way is through a process called systematic desensitizing.

And what that basically means is that you have to systematically get the dog used to the offending stimulus, by pairing it with something that the dog really likes, and in which the offending stimulus is at a low enough intensity that it doesn’t totally freak the dog out.

Let’s take a practical example: the dog is afraid of, let’s say, the buses that go by, because they make a rattling sound when they pass. So in a perfect world, you can record the noise, or you can spend time near it.

So, if it’s the bus going by, maybe you stand outside near where the bus is. When the bus comes by, stand near it. Now, you want to be at a distance where the dog is not so close that it’s going to completely overwhelm him and throw him into a panic – because there’s no learning when the dog is in a panic.

So, maybe the dog has to be 30, 40 feet away. And then, when the bus starts to approach, and you know that the dog is aware of the presence of the bus, you start to focus him on you.

You could do a sit, and then a treat: steak, chicken, cheese. And as long as the dog is aware of the offending stimulus, you produce a pile of treats and get them doing something that they’re comfortable doing, like a sit.

And then I would do that a bunch of times. And then slowly, over time – as the dog gets used to that level of intensity – you start to move a little closer, and then a little closer, and then a little closer.

Any time you realize you’ve gone a little too far, it’s too much, you want to back up a little bit to a lower level of intensity, so that he can handle it. And keep working like that.

That’s basically what systematic desensitizing is. And in other contexts, you use that same approach in different ways.

But that’s the basic approach: to couple an offending stimulus, at a low enough level, with something really good that the dog loves, so the dog can get used to the offending stimulus at a low level, associate it with a positive thing, and then start building up the tolerance level.

That’s basically the approach. And it’s time-consuming and difficult.

Knock, Knock – Who’s There?

Mike: One thing that helps, that I often tell people to do if they have a smartphone, is to use their phone to record offending sounds. Any sound: cars backfiring, or whatever it is.

Morgan: Someone knocking on the door.

Mike: Yes, those kinds of things. So, you record about a minute’s worth, in five-second increments, of that, OK?

And then, for example with the knock on the door, you can play that around the house, and teach the dog that when it hears that knock from the phone, it gets a treat.

You start by coupling it that way: you just sit next to the dog, turn the phone on low – like I said, so they can hear it, but it’s not blowing their mind – and every time they hear that “knock, knock, knock?” Treat.

“Knock, knock, knock” – treat. “Knock, knock, knock” – treat. You establish that – and it won’t take that long. It will take a few minutes to do that.

Then you can turn the phone up, and go to a certain distance away from the dog – play it, and say “Come.” Have the dog come to you, and give him a treat.

Start teaching the dog that the “knock, knock, knock” coming out of your phone means that: “If I come to mommy or daddy, then I’ll get a treat.”

So, you’re starting to recondition what the sound means, and to connect it to something positive.

A Handy Technical Hack

Mike: So, you can do that a bunch. And then I just did this recently, in fact I put up a blog post about it, with the Sonos system.

Sonos is one of those systems where you can control, from your phone, where and from which speaker in the house the sound comes.

So, I had this guy with a dog that’s afraid of baby noises. And we downloaded a bunch of baby sounds from the Internet and put them on his phone, and then started this process I just described.

Play it a little bit, give him a treat. Within about 10 minutes, the dog had learned that: “If you hear the baby sound coming out of the phone, then you come to mommy and get a treat.” He picked that up real fast.

Then, we started playing it from different speakers in the house – that was controlled from the phone. So, we were in the kitchen, and he set it so that the crying baby sound would come from the back bedroom. And when it did, the dog would come running to us for a treat.

So, we basically – over the course of about an hour – conditioned the dog that whenever it heard baby sounds coming from anywhere in the house, it would come to mommy or daddy for a treat.

Morgan: Wow.

Mike: Yes, it started to have a completely new set of associations with what happens when there’s noises around. So, you can adapt that principle to anything.

Morgan: Yes. Well, one thing I like about that one is: you turn the dog into like an early-warning device for if your baby’s crying.

Mike: Exactly. There’s a lot of benefits. And to really get the dog over it, and create a kneejerk response in the way that we wanted it, it took a few weeks.

It takes time – systematic desensitization almost always takes some time and patience, which is another reason why I tell people: “If you’re having a baby, start early – because these things take time,” you know?

Morgan: Yes. Well, you’re creating a new habit, and it takes a little while for the brain to get rewired, through the repetition of that routine.

Mike: Correct. Exactly. And then, you just take that template of that particular approach, and you can apply it to anything with noises.

Again, fireworks and things like that, explosions, are really a big thing – and I’m sure you can go online and they have pre-recorded sounds just for this purpose. I’m sure they’re like $3 per download, or something like that.

Morgan: Yes.

Mike: And then, you can just start playing with that.

How To Spot A Noise-Sensitive Dog

Morgan: I have a question around this: I don’t currently have a dog, but is it always obvious when your dog is freaked out? How do you know? This might be a dumb question – but what are the signs that your dog is freaked out by a sudden or a loud noise?

Mike: Oh, you’ll know. You’ll know. They’ll jump, they’ll cower, they’ll try to hide, they’ll shake and shiver.

With my dog, just recently, I thought: “I’m going to have to do something about this.” This is my own little dog – because he’s started shaking and shivering, for some reason, when the dishwasher goes on. For some reason, he’s decided that’s the scariest thing in the world.

So, I’ve got to start doing this kind of stuff – turn on the dishwasher, get out a treat. Here, because the dishwasher’s a fixed thing, you’ve got to approach it a little differently.

So, I’ll turn it on and start on the other side of the room. My dog is very food-motivated, so I’ll start having him do little sits, and downs, and tricks – things that he’s comfortable with and knows, that produce a big reward.

And just start doing these things with really high-intensity treats, rewards like grilled chicken or meat of some kind. And get closer, and closer, and closer to the dishwasher while it’s happening.

And then, as soon as we’re done with the exercise, turn off the dishwasher, so that both the noise and the goodies stop simultaneously.

‘Do No Harm’ Ways To Pacify Your Jumpy Dog

Morgan: Got it, yes. Right, OK – and what about, for example, when there’s a thunderstorm? My parents have two wheaten terriers, and whenever there’s a thunderstorm, they put these kind of jackets on the dogs – ThunderShirts? You’ve talked about this before.

Mike: Yes. You know, the first time I saw those things, I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw. And then I saw a few clients use them – and I was wrong.

They actually work really well, for some dogs. You know, they’re not the perfect solution for every dog, but they certainly help.

And that brings up an interesting point, in that systematic desensitizing is a training methodology. There are other things that can help with anxiety that are more like this – something like a ThunderShirt. They don’t teach the dog anything, they just help the dog feel more at ease.

Morgan: Yes.

Mike: But the ThunderShirt, definitely – they also sell this thing called Adaptil. It’s like the word “adapt” with an “-il” on the end.

It’s a synthetic hormone that mimics the scent of a lactating mother’s milk, for dogs. And it has a calming effect.

Another thing in that category is – don’t laugh – but I live in California, marijuana’s legal here. So, they have dog treats, now, with CBD, which stands for cannabinoids.

That’s the part of the marijuana plant that makes people calmer, and helps with anxiety – but it doesn’t especially get you high or anything like that. That’s the THC in the marijuana.

So, now they have CBD dog treats that you can get to help with anxiety. And I don’t know if this varies from state to state, depending on what the laws are, but I know out here in California you can get CBD treats.

And also, if you go to a dispensary, you can get tinctures.

And if you have to choose between the two – if you have tinctures available – get tinctures, because they’re more pharmaceutically precise, in terms of: you know exactly what you’re giving your dog. And you give them, say, half a drop, or something like that.

Morgan: Right, right.

Mike: With the treats, I don’t really know how much is in those things, to be able to dose it properly.

Morgan: Yes. I’m just seeing if they have CBD treats on Amazon.

Mike: Oh, they probably do.

Morgan: Alright, hold on. Everybody, we’ve got an answer for you, here. “Is it available on Amazon?” One, two, three…it looks like it is available online. There’s something called Canna-Pet.

Mike: Yes – it’s become much more widespread in the last couple of years.

Morgan: Yes – HEMPATH, RxCBD. And then there’s a bunch of dog sites that look like they have it, too. So, everyone, you can get that online.

Mike: Yes, that’s a good one – and then, also, there’s a product that’s been around for years called Rescue Remedy, which is this kind of homeopathic tincture that can help with anxiety.

So, all of these things fall into the category of “do no harm.” They may or may not help, but do no harm and are relatively inexpensive.

So, if you’ve got a dog with real phobic, anxiety-type issues – whether it’s noise or anything else – these things can be helpful.

Again, they don’t teach the dog anything – they just help manage its state of mind a little bit.

Where To Go For More Help

Morgan: Got it. Well, that’s great. Unless there’s anything you want to add, I think we’re going to wrap up here.

So, in addressing this question, you’ve talked a lot about systematic desensitization. That is something we’ve talked about on previous episodes of the podcast, everybody.

And also, there’s quite a bit about it on Mike’s website, And probably, I’m imagining, don’t you have an in-depth section on it on

Mike: Well, yes – I don’t know about, but I was going to say: there’s a lot of in-depth information in the two video courses, the Good Dog, Happy Baby video courses. There’s a lot of information that revolves around systematic desensitizing.

Morgan: I was setting you up for that, but yes – there you go. You swung early at the ball.

Mike: I did.

Patience And Persistence

Morgan: Alright, you cut to the chase – so, can you just say a little bit about that, Mike? How the course actually addresses this, and leads people step-by-step through the process of systematic desensitizing with their dogs?

Mike: Sure. The course is more or less used in relation to dogs that are sensitive to being touched – or in various ways, dogs that are just generally afraid of children.

There’s a nice little, additional clip in Module 1, that’s got a giant, 90-pound pit-bull who cannot get his nails clipped without being anaesthetized because he’s so afraid of getting his nails clipped that he’ll bite.

And I was there shooting some other stuff with this guy and he told me about that, and I had the camera guy there, so I said: “You know, just give it a try.”

So, we did about 30 or 40 minutes of desensitizing with him, and I had clipped all his nails by the end of 30 or 40 minutes – and everybody was blown away by it. And it was a really cool.

I mean, it’s not 30 or 40 minutes on the video, it’s maybe 10 minutes – but it was really cool to see how, with just a little bit of persistence and patience, you can actually get quite a way pretty quickly.

Morgan: Yes.

Mike: And then there’s a lot of other stuff around systematic desensitizing. Again, the primary thing in the context of the e-course modules is about preparing a dog for childlike handling, and the presence of the children in the first place, for a dog who’s afraid of children.

Unpredictable Kids And Jumpy Dogs

Morgan: In relationship to that – and I know we’re about to wrap up here, everybody – but just bringing it back to the context at hand, being the expecting parent or parents whose infant is approaching the toddler stage: you alluded to it very briefly, in the beginning, but again, could you say why this is important for someone who’s preparing their dog for the arrival of their child?

Mike: Well yes, the thing is: loud, sudden noises are unpredictable, and seemingly out of nowhere. So, that’s part of what the scare factor is. And kids, little kids, do all kinds of things that are unpredictable and seemingly out of nowhere.

So, my concern is that a dog who’s noise-sensitive is not just going to be sensitive to the noises that a child makes, but all the other unpredictable stuff that goes with it.

Especially as they become 6 months, 8 months, 12 months – they start throwing things around, knocking things over, having little hissy fits and temper tantrums, and tripping and falling, and spilling a glass of water off the table, and stuff like that.

If you’ve got a dog that’s nervous around sudden noises, a child is going to be the source of a ton of that kind of weirdness. And it can just really make the dog afraid of the kid – because the kid is the source of a lot of that stuff.

Fight Or Flight Reactions

Morgan: Yes – and I guess, potentially, the dog could lash out in fear.

Mike: Oh, absolutely. Oh yes, that’s the primary driver of aggression: it’s fear. It’s not the only driver, but I’d say – just on a kind of rough sketch – 70% of behavior issues having to do with aggression are, somehow, rooted in fear. It might be higher than that – but it’s high.

Morgan: That’s probably universally, too – I’m sure that relates to us humans, too.

Mike: Without a doubt. And when you’re afraid, you go into fight or flight: if you’re cornered and you can’t flee, then you’re going to fight.

Morgan: Yes – and if you’re anxious, you tend to be defensive, or you sometimes act unconsciously to protect yourself.

Mike: Well, you do – and there’s a really good physiological reason for that: it’s because the parts of the brain that have to do with fear are inversely correlated to the parts of the brain that have to do with cognition.

Morgan: Yes, it shuts down your cognition.

Mike: Absolutely, yes – and we all have that in our own experience. If we’ve ever been afraid, nervous, anxious – the higher that is, the less you’re capable of functioning on a cognitive level, never mind learning something new.

But even just doing basic day-to-day tasks just becomes increasingly difficult, because the brain areas are literally: one turns on, the other turns off.



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