Fear of People and Noises

Fear of People

A dog's behavior when it is in the presence of a person it fears will be in one of the three forms: submission, aggression or avoidance. Some are fearful of any stranger, others react only to certain types of people (anyone in uniform, men with facial hair, women with umbrellas, people of a different skin color to their owners, babies, old people who walk "oddly" with the aid of a cane or walker, etc.

Management of Fear

First identify the problem. If it is old people or just those carrying canes? Determine roughly at what distance from the stimulus the dog begins to display signs of fear. Next, with the dog under your full control, preferably on a halter and leash, start at a distance where it can see the stimulus but is not showing signs of apprehension. Tell the dog to sit and give it a fiid reward. Gradually decrease the distance, stopping at intervals, commanding the "Sit" position and rewarding the dog. This cannot be achieved in one session; it may take many exposures to the stimulus over some days.

If uniforms are the problem, go through the process with as many people who wear them as possible; letter carriers, police officers, etc. A dog fearful of babies can be introduced at first to older children and then accustomed to the scents and sounds of an infant. Let the dog smell the baby's pillow. Punishment must never be used for this or any kind of phobia.

Fear of Noises

This common fear can be due to a variety of sharp, loud noises, most commonly thunder, gunshots and fireworks. It is impossible to go through a series of desensitizing training sessions for thunderstorms, and impractical, except for police and army dogs, in the case of fireworks and other explosions.

You can use the method of gradually decreasing the distance between the affected dog and the stimulus which has been outline above, together with praise and reward for nonfearful behavior. If possible, the noise stimulus should at first be at a low level. This is not always easy to arrange,and distance alone may be the only way of graduating the sound volume. Obedience to the "Sit" command is vital. If the dog does show fear it should be ignored or distracted in some way. When it settles down, praise, petting and a food reward must be instantly provided. Some people recommedn the use of a CD entitled "Fear of Fireworks", containing all the noises of rockets, bangers, Roman candles and the like at varying intensities. It should only be used as recommended in training dogs by gradual desensitization to lose their fear in the way described above for other unpleasant stimuli.

For fireworks at specific festival times, tranquilizers such as valium should be obtained from your vet and given in good time before the fun begins. At such times always keep your dog inside the house.

Recently melatonin, the drug now widely used for jet lag and sleep disturbance in humans, has been suggested as a useful therapeutic for noise-phobic dogs. In the bodies of both humans and other animals, melatonin, a hormone involved with inducing sleep, is produced naturally, by the pineal gland in the brain. More work needs to be done on this, but if you are interested in trying, discuss it with your vet.

A diffuser spray that plugs into an electrical socket and emits DAP, a chemical mimicking the pheromones indicating well-being and appeasement, that are present in a female dog's urine, has a calming effect on dogs, and so can prove useful in noise phobia and other stress-related cases.

Some dogs that are frightened of loud noises have hearing problems of a medical nature; their hearing may be hypersensitive or, rather poor. The latter condition may make them jump at a sudden noise. A veterinary examination is needed in such cases and treatment is often possible. It is important that owners do not become irritated when a dog is afraid and that they do not fuss over, baby-talk and cuddle the pet. Fussing can be mistaken for praise, thereby reinforcing the display of fear.


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