The process of overcoming fears and anxieties requires time and patience, but the good thing is that dogs can keep learning throughout their entire lives — they’re never too old!
Q) In recent years, our Welsh Collie, Benjy, has developed a great fear of sharp, loud noises, which sound like, but may not be, gunshots. We live in an area where there is seasonal shooting, and there is also a great deal of housing development where air guns are used on roofing and unexpected loud noises can shatter the calm at any time. If these occur, even in the far distance while we are out on a walk, Benjy lies down and will not move unless we turn round towards home. This obviously spoils our walk and I am concerned that it is affecting his quality of life. We have tried desensitising him with a CD recording but without success. Do you think Benjy is too old to overcome his fear or do you have any other suggestions that we might try?
Roger and Maxine Pickard, Oxfordshire
Tamsin says: The process of overcoming fears and anxieties requires time and patience, but the good thing is that dogs can keep learning throughout their entire lives — they’re never too old! Many dogs struggle with loud sounds, and while this can be managed by keeping them away from noisier locations, sudden, unpredictable occurrences are frustratingly impossible to avoid.
Always take treats out with you to feed Benjy as soon as you encounter any unexpected noises. Research has revealed a link between pain and noise sensitivity, so it’s important to have him examined by your vet to rule out or treat any underlying pain or medical condition that might exacerbate his experience of loud noises. Your vet will also be able to refer you to an accredited behaviourist who can create a tailor-made plan for you, to change the way Benjy feels about sudden noises and how he behaves in response. Sound recordings are designed to re-introduce specific noises at extremely low levels that a dog tolerates well — remaining relaxed and confident. Then you can begin to associate them with really good things happening, like eating his favourite treats or playing games he particularly enjoys.
However, it can be difficult to know when to gradually progress by increasing the volume, so expert guidance is invaluable. A behaviourist will also demonstrate how to help Benjy feel confident and safe both at home and when outside.