My Pet World: Ways to help dog overcome fear of loud noises
Lulu is a 1-1/2-year-old lab-hound rescue who has been with us since she was 8 weeks old. Until three weeks ago, we took long daily walks, to her delight. The word "walk" or the sight of her harness still gets her extremely excited. She goes through all the motions of wanting to go for a walk, but once outside will freeze only a few steps from our driveway. We've tried treats, but no change.
We had been on a long walk with a friend and her puppy just before this happened. During that walk, the friend stopped to have a conversation with a person in an idling diesel truck. Noises frighten Lulu (pots in the kitchen, compressors, vacuum, etc.) I'm pretty sure she's afraid now because of this truck. Any suggestions on reducing her fear of noises and getting her to walk again? She really needs the exercise.
- Rosanne, Suffolk County, New York
Loud noises can be very stressful for some pets. Talk to your vet about an anti-anxiety medication that will lessen Lulu's reaction to noises. Also, consider getting her a canine pheromone collar to relax her for the next 30 days or buying canine pheromone spray to spritz on her leash or on your legs so she can inhale this right before and during her walk. Dogs (and people) need to relax to learn.
Once she is relaxed, introduce her to a few conditioning techniques. For example, find recordings of traffic noises online for her to listen to at low volume. You can increase the volume over time, but only to the level where she remains comfortable. Keep rewarding her for being relaxed around this noise.
Take Lulu for a car ride and park and roll down the windows a bit where she can hear some traffic sounds. Again, don't overwhelm her. You always want to increase exposure to sound incrementally to the point where she remains comfortable. Sit for five minutes and build up to 15-minute experiences over the next few weeks before driving her home.
If her comfort is improving, park the car down the street after one of your drives, and walk her home from there. You can increase the walk from half a block to around the block. She just needs to know her outings don't have to be scary and that she will end up in the comfort of her home again
When you are ready to start walking her again, try walking her at night instead when it's much less sound stressful. Once she is happy with her nighttime walks, you can introduce her to daytime walks again.