My dog is scared of loud noises
(Q) My three-year-old Welsh Border Collie, Tess, is always hiding in small spaces. We recently moved home and she now stays upstairs all the time. When I try to bring her down, she just lies on her back. She seems scared of any unexpected noises. I want to do obedience and agility, so I bought a clicker but she runs away from that too.
(A) Trainer Elizabeth Kershaw says: Moving house is thought to be one of the most stressful events in anyone’s life so it is not surprising that your dog has reacted as she has, particularly if she has always been sound sensitive to some degree.
It does seem as if your dog may be of a genetically nervous disposition. If this is so, while there are some things that can be done to improve the situation, it is likely some programmed anxiety will remain. Examine your own reactions to her behaviour. If you tend to sympathise with her and allow her to retreat to her secure areas, it’s likely that she has decided you think she’s made the right decision and the noises she fears are indeed dangerous.
Instead what she needs is encouragement rather than sympathy. Offer her the opportunity to take part in her most rewarding activities as an alternative. You need to set up a sound desensitisation programme. Change her perception of the sounds so that she learns to associate them with an enjoyable activity. Your vet can refer you to an animal behaviourist who can help you set up and carry out such a programme.
An Adaptil diffuser may help. It needs to be placed close to where your dog habitually settles. It emits synthetic pheromones like those of a lactating bitch and can be very reassuring to nervous animals. Work at your training. Knowing what to do in given situations brings with it a degree of self-confidence which can transform your dog.
As your dog is sound sensitive I wouldn’t suggest using a clicker. However, you can use the principles of clicker training, using any sound, word, or signal as a behavioural marker. All that you need to watch is that the marker you decide on is short in duration, understood by the dog, used as the dog performs your desired behaviour, and associated with a reward such as a food treat or a toy.