Dog's Sound Sensitivity Causes Anxiety

By Ross, John | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Dog's Sound Sensitivity Causes Anxiety


Ross, John, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Dear Dog Talk: My husband and I have a Cairn terrier who is approximately a year-and-a-half old. We brought Zoey home when she was 3 1/2 months old. From the beginning, Zoey has been afraid of noise. She quivers and shakes and will try to hide. We do not know what to do to help her with this problem.

A thunderstorm, even in the distance, sets her into a tizzy. We have tried holding her close, but this isn't much help.

If we are outside and a car backfires in the distance or she hears a gunshot or a loud motorcycle, she pulls on her leash to get to the house. Then she is afraid to go back outside for the rest of the day.

With the Fourth of July coming up, we don't know what to do, because our neighbors set off fireworks. Please help us.

Dear Terrier in a Tizzy: Hmm, you do have a problem. And the bad news is that sound sensitivity, which is what your terrier has, typically gets worse as dogs get older.

One thing that you can do is not inadvertently reinforce Zoey's fear by treating her as a frightened human being, which would be to console her. Dogs interpret verbal consolation ("It's OK, sweetie. Don't be scared.") and physical consolation (e.g., picking her up and hugging her) as praise for whatever they are doing or feeling at that time. We humans interpret those actions as reassurance, but that's not the message dogs get.

You need to condition yourself not to react when Zoey does. Just act naturally when loud noises erupt -- as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Try to distract Zoey with a ball or some other favorite toy.

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