Noise anxiety (or noise phobia) is a condition where a dog is excessively afraid of sounds like fireworks, thunderstorms, vacuum cleaners etc.. While loud noises are understandably stressful, a dog that suffers from noise anxiety experiences panic and extreme fear that is out of proportion to any real danger associated with the noise. A dog with noise phobias can engage in destructive behaviors like chewing and tearing up objects in the home, or might try to escape and run away from the noise.
Like all other mental and behavioral issues, noise anxiety has both genetic and environmental causes.
Herding dog breeds such as the Border Collie, Australian Shepherd and German Shepherd Dog may be more likely to experience noise anxiety.
Environmental factors that may influence separation anxiety include the amount of socialization to different sights and sounds during puppyhood, and amount of daily exercise.
A large, 2015 Finnish study found that "fearful dogs had experienced poorer maternal care and had been less socialized before the first three months of life." This suggests that appropriate puppy socialization during the first 12 weeks of life can help reduce the likelihood of adult dog anxiety disorders. The importance of puppy socialization could also explain why dogs that are abandoned or rescued from shelters are more likely to experience anxiety issues like noise phobia and separation anxiety.
The same study found that dogs who have separation anxiety, and noise sensitivities, get significantly less daily exercise compared with dogs who don't have these anxiety problems.
“Crash! Whistle! Boom!” Every year on July 4th, people across the country gather to observe magnificent fireworks displays. They dazzle and excite us, causing our heart to race and our chest to pound as each boom echoes across the valley. Lucky for us, we understand that we are safe, that these displays are for our entertainment, and that their explosive power is being contained and managed.
Unfortunately, our canine companions don’t have this comforting information available to them. To many dogs, fireworks and other loud noises such as thunder are terribly frightening events. With the first distant bang or faint roll of thunder, many dogs begin to quiver, drool, pant, or whine. They may begin searching frantically for a hiding spot in a closet corner or under a bed. In extreme cases, dogs will dig through floorboards, jump from windows, and break toenails or teeth trying to break out of crates or other enclosures.
Noise phobias in dogs have some biological basis to the extent that loud, sudden noises are startling to many critters across the animal kingdom. Loud noises in nature can signal danger, such as an approaching predator. What may begin in a young dog as a mild startle response or nervous behavior can develop into full-blown distress and phobic responding over time. Noises such as thunder, fireworks, and gun shots are unpredictable to a dog, and this can create ever-escalating levels of fear, just as the inevitable but unpredictable monster jumping out in a horror movie can cause us to become increasingly anxious as we watch.
Written by Megan E. Maxwell, PhD