This unit explores the potential causes of noise phobia, underlying contributing medical conditions and the signs and symptoms.
Unit 2 considers how noise phobia is diagnosed and how we can promote behaviour change in noise phobic dogs, cats and other small pets.
Pets with Noise Phobia
Fearfulness is probably the most studied trait in animals.
Fear is a natural and normal part of an animal’s repertoire and has an adaptive function for all animals (including humans)! In all species, certain fear responses are innate and essential for survival.
Fear is an emotion needed to survive, but when prolonged and frequent, causes suffering in both humans and animals.
Fears and phobias are common behaviour problems in companion animals.
Fear is the apprehension of a stimulus, object, or event. Fear is a normal, adaptive response essential for survival and, in the short term, can be healthy.
Fearful reactions can potentially help keep animals safe. Fear stimulus activates the sympathetic nervous system with increased adrenaline and noradrenaline secretion and a rise in blood pressure and heart rate.
The fear of loud noises is often referred to as noise phobia because of extreme panic reactions in some cases.
Most fear is learned and can be unlearned through careful desensitisation and counterconditioning around the stimulus. Phobias are learned fear reactions that are persistent over a period of time and are consistent and irrational, rather than adaptive.
Fearfulness can exist as a temperament trait in animals and describes the tendency for an animal to respond in a fearful way to his environment. Both genetics and early experience affect brain receptor sensitivity and so such traits may be partially inherited and partially passed on between generations by non-genetic means. Pets who are temperamentally fearful are more prone to developing a range of fears and are more likely to relapse or develop new fears.
Fearful behaviours or phobias in dogs can be divided into four general categories:
> fear of new places or situations
> fear of unfamiliar people
> fear of unfamiliar dogs
> noise phobia
Some dogs will exhibit one specific type of fear and others may show several unrelated fear responses or phobias.
Managing Noise Phobia
An animal’s response to loud noises is mediated by a variety of physiological and behavioural systems.
Startle to loud sounds is reflexive. It has been suggested that dogs with noise phobia might feel pain as a result of the loud noise, and some physiological studies give some support for this hypothesis.
The first step in treating noise phobia is for the animal to be thoroughly checked by their Vet. This will rule out any underlying health conditions potentially contributing to the problem. For example, sensory changes such as vision can contribute to a noise phobia.
Once this has been ruled out, a list of all the stimuli that trigger the phobic response must be identified and a gradient of these stimuli from the least fearful to the most fearful should be made.
Once this has been carried out we can begin a programme of behaviour change. The goal of the programme will be to introduce a stimulus that remains within the dog’s comfort level and does not elicit noise phobia.
The mainstay for most behaviour modification techniques is a form of classical conditioning called desensitisation and counterconditioning. These techniques work together in order to change an animal’s response to a fear inducing stimulus by repeatedly presenting the stimulus at a low enough level that the animal does not react.
It is essential to manage the pet’s environment during training to prevent accidental exposure to the fear inducing stimuli.