Chilled with fireworks: preventing noise fears in puppies

By Rachel Casey | noise, fear, anxiety, puppy, dog, behaviour

The aim of giving puppies experience of noises when they are young is to ensure that they perceive such noises are ‘normal’ and ‘unimportant’ to protect against the development of fear responses later in life. In order to achieve this, every puppy needs to be exposed to noises at such a volume that they don’t show signs of anxiety or fear. In this way, sounds become a normal part of each puppy’s experience. Before starting this program, you should make sure that you are familiar with behavioural signs of anxiety and fear in dogs.

It is important that puppies are not already anxious or fearful when they first hear noises, as this will increase the risk that they will associate the noises with a negative experience. It is therefore important to ensure that puppies are relaxed, or engaged in positive behaviours such as play, before they hear any noises. Noises need to be first presented at a low volume to ensure that your puppy shows no sign of anxiety. It is better to start at a very low volume, where noises are barely audible to the human ear, to ensure there is no negative response: your need to watch to puppy carefully when the noises are playing! He or she should continue playing or interacting as if nothing different has happened. If all is OK, the volume of the sound can be slightly increased next time. This process is repeated, with the volume of noises increased gradually over sessions, but each time checking that your puppy is always relaxed. Should he or she seem anxious during a session, the sound should be stopped immediately. Once the puppy is relaxed again, start to play the sound but at a lower volume, so that he or she is no longer reacting. When you next increase the volume again, make sure you make sure you increase the volume by a smaller amount.

Preparation

  • Its a good idea to plan how you will make sure your puppy gets to experience range of household noises, such as washing machines, vacuum cleaners, doorbells, telephones, radio or TV, and food mixers. In most homes, this will happen naturally, but if your puppy is outside, in a quiet area, or there are particular noises he or she is unlikely to experience, then it is a good idea to use good quality recordings of these noises. These are available through Dogs Trust ( ‘Sounds Sociable’ is a CD with a range of noises for puppies to learn about).
  • Think how you will make sure your puppy has a positive experience of sounds which don't happen in the home, like fireworks, gunshots, traffic and thunder. The best way to gradually introduce these is with good quality recordings ('Sounds Scary’ CD). Direct exposure of puppies to loud noises such as fireworks is not a good idea as this could result in them becoming scared.
  • Make sure your puppy is somewhere familiar before starting to play any noises
  • Have toys and food treats available before starting the recordings
  • Check you are familiar with signs of anxiety in your puppy, so you know if you are progressing too fast 

Household noises 

  • To make sure your puppy can the opportunity to get used to household noises, he or she will need to spend some time in parts of the house where you use normal household appliances. Remember that for each new experience, you need to build up slowly. For example, he or she can start by exploring a switched off vacuum cleaner. Once relaxed with this, you can maybe move the vacuum about, still switched off. But remember to check that puppy is not scared! The next stage may be for the vacuum to be turned on but immobile, and maybe in the next room if needed. The final stage will be the puppy confident with a turned on moving vacuum cleaner in the same room!
  • Remember to always check for signs of anxiety and fear. If you think he or she may be worried, the appliance should be turned off. When you start sessions again, make sure its at a stage before hitting a problem.

Outside noises

  • The noises which most often cause fears in adult dogs are fireworks, traffic, trains, aeroplanes, gunshots, hot air balloons and thunder. So trying to get yur puppy used to these in a positive way will give him or her a great start in life.
  • Get hold of good quality recordings - you are looking for ones where sounds are available as separate elements (e.g. the ‘whizz’ and ‘bang’ of fireworks separately as well as together), and include the variations in types of noise which dogs are likely to encounter later in life (e.g. shotgun and rifle sounds).
  • Start with you puppy relaxed in a familiar environment. Have toys and treats ready, and if you have more than one puppy, enough people to keep them all occupied! 
  • Set up the recording in advance, so you are sure that it will play at a very low volume to start with. Also start by presenting the separate elements of complex sounds.
  • Get your puppy interested in playing before you start playing the noises
  • Watch your puppy very carefully as you start to play the noises at such a low volume that you can't hear it yourself. If you think he or she is worried, stop the sound immediately, but carry on playing until puppy is relaxed again. When you start again, have the volume set lower!
  • As long as your puppy carries on playing and ignores the sounds, you can increase the volume very gradually in the next session, but watch for worry again!
  • Keep repeating, each time building up the volume as long as your puppy is relaxed.