hounddogIf your dog is showing signs, or is fearful of noise caused by fireworks, thunder, lightning and gunfire-sounds etc. There are things you...

hounddogIf your pet is anxious or fearful of loud noises, i.e., fireworks, thunder; or your pet is afraid of a person, a particular place or thing? There are a few things you should be doing, or not doing during the scary event.

  1. Bring your pets INSIDE the house, make you sure you do this way before the event. You don’t want them to get caught outside only to face their fear on their own; this could result in them escaping from your property.
  2. To our pets, “comforting” is sending the wrong message. When it comes from humans, it’s very effective at reinforcing their fears, what they’re thinking/feeling. When I taught police dogs, we would pat the dogs whenever they looked at the bad guys. And you can bet it didn’t take long to “condition” in the natural aggression they had. Note: During training, giving treats reinforces their actions (what they just did).

Although you don’t “comfort” them, you wouldn’t walk away or ignore them either.

3. Redirect (distract) their thoughts at (or before) the first sign of the problem, do something challenging and fun, like playing with a ball, practicing obedience or any other game they like to play. If you are having trouble getting them to focus on you, maybe the noise or thing is too loud/close?. The objective is to have your pet concentrate on what you’re doing and not on what they’re afraid of.  (For cats, chase toys like a feather on the end of a string)

4. Use a technique that I call, “redirection tease play” or “tease play,” a hands-on technique I’ve come up with that closely mimics what pets do with each other during play. It naturally redirects and relaxes them because you put them in a playful state of mind. Not as easy to apply to a cat (although I do with my cats) but easier to do with a dog. Anyway, I wrote a post titled https://catmantoo.info/2009/12/26/redirection-tease-play/  AND video. PLEASE WATCH

5. Confine your pet in a small room, Turn on familiar sounds in the house like the television (volume up), Start the washer, dryer (place a few tennis balls with no heat), turn on a fan, anything that creates a background or “white noise” to drown out the noise from the outside.

6. Sometimes “crating” (pet carrier) your pet during the episode (or while you’re away to minimize escaping) can be helpful, but FIRST, your pet must already be well acclimated to their crate. Look for my video tutorials

For a dog: ‘crate training’ a puppy, is on my YouTube channel

For a cat: ‘pet carrier’ tutorial is on my Patreon page  (subscription required)

For best results, plan ahead

7. Use desensitization techniques, by exposing them to the harmful noise, person or object at first in tiny increments, i.e., the sound is barely audible, or the object is far away. You can find pre-recorded sounds, e.g., thunder or fireworks, on the Internet or YouTube. For objects, position yourself far enough away, just outside of your dog’s threshold, where there is little or no reaction to what triggers the fear. Practice as many short sessions over days or weeks; each session has the noise volume increase and the distance to the object decrease.

8. Obedience Training (probably the most important) It is an “indirect” but effective way to help cure phobias and other behavioral problems.  Your dog should understand at least five basics on and off-leash around distractions. Just by teaching a dog to sit, stay, lay down and come on and off-leash, I just happened to cure a dog of its noise phobia.  When taught correctly, obedience training is fun, helps your pet confidence, creates a better, more trusting relationship, plus helps them learn new things faster.

Another great article on Phobias, fears, and anxieties in dogs. DOUGLAS ISLAND VETERINARY SCHOOL

Let me know your feedback in the comment form below. THANKS


  1. I don’t understand why you say there is no such thing as ‘comforting’ in a dog’s world. Why not? What you are saying buys into the myth that you can reinforce fear by rewarding it, but we know that’s not the case. Anything that lowers a dog’s stress level is going to improve their behavior. If that’s stroking a dog, or holding it, or giving it cheese, it’s only going to help the situation. In many cases petting and cooing to dogs has become a conditioned reinforcer so are rewarding and make a dog feel good.

    While recent studies have shown that owners petting their storm phobic dogs did not seem to improve their behavior, it did not make it worse (so they likely were not emotionally more fearful either). I do agree with your other suggestions for how to help scared dogs faced with a trigger, but I wish the idea that comforting reinforces fear would just go away.

  2. Debbie, Thanks for your reply to an important topic. I’m not sure of any recent studies you speak of. I do know in my experience when working with phobias in dogs, what works and what doesn’t work. “Comforting” = reward. Show me in the dog world when a puppy is afraid of something and runs to its mother and the mother gives the puppy a big hug and while stroking it, talks to them, and tells them everything is going to be alright. Our voice and physical touch has the power to change our dogs emotional state. If a child scraps their knee and the mother comforts or babies them, they are more likely to cry, if they redirect or downplay the event the child may just move on. If ringing a bell and giving a reward, can produce a physical reaction of salivating and barking plus an emotional reaction of anticipation and excitement, It’s “conditioning”. If there is thunder and I “comfort” (reward) a dog’s fear reaction, it’s the same thing.
    It’s not, don’t reward your dog, It’s when to reward them

  3. Okay, so what you are saying is this?
    If my child is terrified of the dark, instead of going into his room, turning on a night light and giving him a hug, I should ignore him, and let him scream through the night?
    That makes absolutely no sense to me, and I am a very sensible person.
    Furthermore, I really dislike when people use the mother and pup references to try to teach humans how to interact with dogs. Dogs are not stupid enough to think we are their mothers, so why even use the apples to oranges comparison? It has no relevance to your article.
    I am terrified of spiders. If you left me in a room full of spiders, and let me “deal with it”, my fear will certainly become much worse. On the flip side, if you give me a huge piece of chocolate cake, and remove me from the spiders, I will immediately feel much better.
    Fear is an emotion. Emotions cannot be reinforced, ask any phsycologist, or PHD expert in that field. Please rethink your view on this, since people tend to believe what they read, and go out and act on it. You could be doing harm to people’s pets without even knowing it.

  4. Anne, Why are you turning off the light when your child is terrified of the dark? Keep the light on, what kind of parent does that? BTW – “I” really dislike when people don’t “really” read my posts plus don’t have any credible experience with animal behaviour, but still rant on and on about nothing, try reading my post again! never wrote “to ignore”, I actually said, “you wouldn’t walk away and ignore them either” So what the heck are you going on about? read the part where I say to distract them, keep them engaged. and to take your analogy, if a child was afraid, in my opinion it would be best to read/play/talk/distract them to get their mind off of what’s frightening them. I think that’s much more beneficial than hugging, but that’s just a parenting choice. with that said, my blog isn’t about children, it’s about dogs and dog phycology which I have 33 years experience. Where did you study animal behaviour? or go door to door fixing peoples dogs behavioural issues?

  5. Thank you Robert! My dogs are scared of any loud noise, even a whistle on the TV. Having worked with you several years ago, I know FRIST HAND how amazing you are with the dogs mind. A true whisperer. I think you were a dog in a past life! I have been redirecting them and they are much calmer but still a work on progress as I only get to see them on the weekends.
    I remember the first time you came in to our animal hospital offering your services over 20 years ago! We had a scared, out of control Dalmatian that was anything but obedient/social. You took this dog and returned a few weeks later with a confident, loving, well mannered, happy dog. You brought him in OFF LEASH and he attentively stayed right by your side, listened to every word and hand signal you gave him with eager anticipation. The real test for me was when you returned to see him a few weeks later, the dog was beyond thrilled to see you. As if you were his owner. We never looked for another trainer to recommend to our clients. I have several owners that I wish I could give your number to as they need someone to help with their dogs. The trainers they have been working with are not very good and I feel so bad for the dogs. It’s NEVER a good sign when the dog does not want to go with the “trainer” when he returns to visit the dog.
    I guess I just wanted to say, you are dearly missed here in the US. I refer clients to your website all the time. I hope it helps them. Miss you and thank you!

  6. Thank you for sharing the information.
    BTW, as a parent (of children and pets), I think you are on target with your analogies.

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