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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views September 2018 Issue

Fear of Loud Noises Could Be a Medical, Not a Behavioral, Issue

Has your dog developed a fearful or anxious reaction to loud noises that she didn’t have before? Consider getting her to the doctor rather than the trainer.

Researchers in Brazil and the United Kingdom studied two groups of 10 dogs each that had developed sound-triggered anxiety or fright that they exhibited via trembling and hiding. One group of 10 had musculoskeletal pain such as the kind that comes with arthritis; the other, no pain at all.

Although both groups were noise-averse, the dogs in pain had become more fearful of loud noises than the healthy group and became more upset in general, even developing a fear of places where they had heard loud noises. They had also developed their fear of noise much later in life, whereas dogs who are afraid of loud noises as a behavioral issue usual develop the problem early on.

The researchers believe that becoming startled or tensing up in reaction to a loud noise aggravates pain that’s already there. Thus, a learned association forms between noise and pain, getting a vicious cycle going.

Fortunately, as the investigators learned, easing the pain with medicine, counterconditioning the dogs so they wouldn’t have such strong reactions to noise, and, in many cases, administering anti-anxiety medication eased the aversion to noise that had suddenly developed.

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