Anxiety in dogs — how to calm a dog with sound therapy
Anxiety is a common problem in dogs, and can be debilitating. Sounds such as loud bangs, or bright lights, such as with fireworks displays, can trigger or exacerbate anxiety in dogs. However, there's a few ways to help your dog relax, whether they're scared of fireworks and other noises, or get anxious when you're not around.
Sound therapy uses different types of music and sounds to help your dog relax when they're feeling stressed, and can be a real lifesaver during the fireworks season.
Based on research conducted on dogs in rescue shelters, the whole idea behind sound therapy for dogs is that music and calming sounds can help them feel less anxious and more at ease - including lowering heart rate and reducing behavioural problems. We're talking about classical music, sounds from nature, like birds chirping or waves crashing, and even white noise.
There are many benefits of using sound therapy to help calm your dog, including:
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Promotes relaxation
- Improves sleep quality
- Enhances positive behaviour
- Supports desensitisation
Understanding your dog’s anxiety
Anxiety in dogs is common, and sorting it out won’t be a quick fix. Just like us humans, dogs can get anxious when they're put in stressful or new situations, or if they feel threatened by certain sights, sounds or noises. You might notice anxiety in dogs present in different ways - it could be physical signs, changes in their mood, or even how they behave. Helping your dog overcome anxiety requires time and effort, and starts with understanding the underlying causes.
Dog anxiety is actually a natural thing. It's how your dog reacts when they feel threatened. Basically, it's their body's way of saying, "Hey, something's not right here." This happens when something 'triggers' their nervous system. Anxiety in dogs can be put into three main types:
|Situational anxiety||This type of anxiety occurs in response to specific situations or events, such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or car journeys.|
|Separation anxiety||This type of anxiety occurs when a dog is left alone or separated from you. It is one of the most common forms of anxiety in dogs.|
|Generalised anxiety||This type of anxiety is characterised by chronic worry and unease not linked to specific triggers and can affect a dog's overall quality of life.|
Anxiety in dogs can look different from one dog to another. It really depends on your dog and how anxious they're feeling. But there are some common signs you can look out for:
- Excessive barking
- Destructive behaviour (such as chewing or digging)
- Hiding or trying to escape
- Aggression or irritability
- Clinginess, altered interactions with owners or other pets
- Changes to appetite, sleep or toileting habits
Understanding what triggers your dog's anxiety is really important. It helps you figure out what might be making them feel all stressed out and therefore how to help. Here are some common triggers you should know about:
Being left alone or separated from their owner is a common issue in dogs that usually needs training to help fix.
Sudden changes in routine, such as a change in feeding or walking times, can cause anxiety in dogs. This can be due to household alterations such as a new person (such as a baby) or a new pet in the home, or other changes to their environment such as building work.
Meeting new people or animals, especially in crowded or noisy settings, can be overwhelming for some dogs.
Dogs can become very reactive and fearful around other canines, especially if they’ve had a previous bad experience.
Unfortunately, these triggers can overlap. For example, a dog that‘s nervous of new people will become more anxious if meeting them somewhere loud. Knowing your dog and what they like and don’t like will help you help them stay calm.
The science behind sound therapy
Sound therapy is all about using certain sounds to help your dog's brain and body chill out. It's actually pretty cool how it works.
When your dog hears a sound, it travels in waves into their ear canal and makes the eardrum vibrate. These vibrations go to the inner ear and get turned into electrical signals that go straight to the brain.
The effects on your dog's brain are pretty much the same as they are on us humans. Certain sounds can make the brain release dopamine and serotonin, which are the feel-good chemicals in the brain. These chemicals help to lower stress and anxiety and make your dog feel calm and relaxed.
Sound therapy can actually help the part of your dog's nervous system that's in charge of relaxation work even better. This can slow down their heart rate, lower their blood pressure, and generally make them feel more at ease.
Types of sound therapy
There are several types of music that you can use for sound therapy.
Classical music, especially music with slow tempos and gentle melodies, has been shown to have a calming effect on dogs. In a study by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Glasgow, dogs exposed to classical music showed lower stress-related behaviours. Other genres that work well are soft rock and reggae.
White noise has got all the frequencies that we can hear, and it's often used to drown out background noise and make a place feel more peaceful. It’s like a big, comfy blanket for your dog's ears. It helps to mask other sounds that might make them jumpy or anxious.
Nature sounds, such as birdsong, ocean waves, or rain, can calm dogs and create a natural environment that your dog is already familiar with. It's like they're back in their happy place, even if they're actually indoors. This can help them feel more at ease and less stressed.
Specially designed soundscapes
Some companies offer soundscapes specially designed for dogs. These soundscapes are designed to hit all the right notes for helping your dog relax. They blend different types of sounds that are known to make dogs feel more at ease.
Using sound therapy to help calm anxious dogs is a simple and effective approach.
Create a comfortable environment
Before introducing sound therapy, choose a quiet room or area where your dog can relax without distractions. Crate training can help give them their own space and is great if they live at home with young children or other animals.
Choose the right sounds
Avoid loud, fast or erratic sounds, which could increase your dog's anxiety.
Introduce sound therapy gradually
Start by playing the sound at a low volume for 5 to 10 minutes and watch your dog’s reaction. If they’re relaxed and comfortable, slowly increase the volume. If you notice your dog looking a bit uncomfortable or even more anxious when you're playing these sounds, try turning down the volume a bit. If that doesn't do the trick, you might want to try a different type of sound altogether.
Use sound therapy little and often
Make sound therapy a part of your dog's daily routine. Play the calming sounds during times when you want your dog to relax, such as after a walk or when people are visiting. The more regularly you use sound therapy, the quicker your dog will get used to it. Make it a part of their daily routine, and you'll likely see them start to relax more easily over time.
Combine with other calming techniques
Consider combining sound therapy with other calming techniques, such as calming treats for dogs. Using sound therapy along with other methods can make it more effective.
Remember, it may take time for your dog to get used to sound therapy and experience the full benefits. Be patient and continue to use sound therapy regularly, adjusting the volume and type of sounds as needed.
Desensitising your dog to loud noises
Desensitisation is a way of showing your dog that things don’t have to be scary. It's all about exposing your dog to their anxiety triggers, like loud noises, but doing it really slowly and in a controlled way.
Sound therapy can be used as part of a desensitisation training program to help your dog become less fearful of loud noises, such as fireworks or thunderstorms.
The process of desensitisation
Desensitisation and counter-conditioning is a form of behavioural training, aimed at reducing or changing a dog’s negative response to a stimulus. It’s a slow process, with the aim being to expose your dog to whatever makes them anxious (such as fireworks noise), but at such a low level it doesn’t cause any stress, and then slowly crank up the intensity until your dog can tolerate their particular trigger. This is often paired with a positive reward when your dog remains calm, so that their response to the trigger, such as a thunderstorm, gradually becomes positive rather than negative.
The most important thing is to take it easy. Rushing through the process could backfire and make your dog even more anxious. So, go at a pace that's comfortable for your dog, and make sure you're not overwhelming them with too much too soon.
Fireworks often scare dogs, causing loads of stress and anxiety. The loud bangs, bright flashes, and unfamiliar smells can be overwhelming and without getting prepared, dogs might hide, tremble, bark or try to escape your home. Luckily, there are ways in which you can help. A desensitisation program needs to be started well in advance, but you can also use methods during the fireworks season itself to help them stay relaxed and worry free.
Introduce a desensitisation program specifically for fireworks sounds. You can purchase recordings of fireworks specifically for dog desensitisation. Start by playing the sounds at a very low volume, for a short period, providing plenty of reassurance and praise. Gradually build up the volume and duration of play over the course of several weeks to months.
Make sure your dog has a safe area that they can go to when they need calm, such as a crate or cosy bed.
On the day of the fireworks
If you know your dog doesn’t respond well to fireworks noise, make sure you are home well before dark, with secure doors and windows. Dogs can panic if they’re outside when fireworks go off, and escape, injure themselves or get lost.
- Set up a quiet room or area with a comfortable bed, blankets, and toys where your dog can retreat during fireworks. Keep curtains pulled and lights dim to reduce the noise and sight of fireworks.
- Use sound therapy, such as white noise, classical music or soft rock, to keep your dog calm.
- Stay with your dog during fireworks to provide reassurance, comfort and support.
- Distract your dog from the fireworks with brain games, puzzle feeders or toys.
By preparing your dog for the fireworks season early you can create a safe space for your dog.
Additional tips for calming anxious dogs
There are other ways that can help calm anxious dogs, and by using a mix of approaches, you can help them cope with stressful situations better than ever.
Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for shaping your dog's behaviour. By rewarding your dog with treats, praise, or affection when they’re calm and relaxed, you reinforce calm behaviour. This helps your dog understand that good things happen during stressful situations.
Regular exercise is essential for keeping your dog happy. Exercise helps reduce anxiety by releasing pent-up energy and promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural chemicals that give your dog feelings of happiness and relaxation. Keeping your dog active by walking, playing fetch, or agility training is one of the best ways to keep them calm and happy. If your dog can’t do a lot of physical exercise due to health concerns, exercise their mind using food puzzles or scent games.
Create a routine
Dogs love routine. Feeding and walking your dog at around the same time each day can help your dog know what to expect, which can reduce anxiety.
Provide mental stimulation
Exercising your dog’s brain is just as important as exercising their legs. Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and training sessions can help provide mental stimulation and reduce anxiety. Challenge your dog's mind and entertain them with brain games that exercise their problem solving skills. You’ll be surprised how tired it makes them.
You can use treats, diffusers, sprays and wipes to help calm your dog. Some dogs may also benefit from wearing what is known as a thunder shirt, which is a tight-fitting jacket that swaddles your dog and applies gentle pressure to help keep them calm.
Massage can help promote relaxation and reduce muscle tension. Gently massage your dog's neck, shoulders, and back using slow and gentle strokes. Massage can be a bonding experience and help your dog feel more relaxed and comfortable.
By using sound therapy throughout the year, you can not only prepare your dog for fireworks season but can also help them manage other anxieties they may have. Keeping your dog calm and relaxed will help them stay healthy and happy.
For further help and advice on how to calm an anxious pet during Firework season, have a chat with your local vet.
Types of Anxiety in Dogs