Training Classes and Dogs’ Fear of Loud Noises

Attendance at dog training classes is associated with reduced levels of canine anxiety in response to storms and fireworks, study shows.

Dogs that attended training class have less fear of loud noises, study shows. Photo shows dachshund in autumn leaves.
Photo: Ondre83/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Sensitivity to loud noises such as thunder, fireworks, and gunshots is a problem that affects up to 49% of pet dogs (Blackwell et al 2013). The signs of fear in response to a loud noise can include trembling and shaking, barking, hiding, and seeking out people. A new study from Japan finds that having attended dog training school is associated with fewer anxious behaviours in adult dogs in response to storms and fireworks.

The research by Takuma Kurachi (Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology) and Mami Irimajiri (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Japan) is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 307 dog owners attending parks or dog parks in Tokyo and Kanagawa completed a questionnaire about their dog’s anxious behaviours and their earlier attendance at puppy class and/or dog training class.

The results showed that 30.9% of dogs were reported to be anxious in storms and 20.5% in response to fireworks. As well, 25.7% were said to be anxious in response to separation from the owner. 21.8% of the dogs were said not to be anxious about anything.

Dogs that had attended training were significantly less likely to be reported to show anxious behaviours in response to storms and fireworks. However training classes were not linked to differences in separation anxiety or sensitivities to other kinds of sounds. Living with a child or with another dog had no effect on anxious behaviours.

This was a preliminary study and did not collect data on how long or how often dogs attended training, or what kind of training happened there. So it is not known whether the classes included any exercises designed to get dogs used to hearing sounds such as fireworks, which are found in some puppy classes. It could also be that people who have attended classes have a better understanding of dog training and dog behaviour (as has been found with puppy class; Cutler et al 2017).

Dogs over 2 years old were more likely to be reported as being afraid of fireworks, although age had no effect on anxiety and storms. It seems likely that, if nothing is done to help, dogs sensitize to the sounds of fireworks as they age.

The dogs in this study were a wide range of breeds and mixed breeds with an average age of 3 years 9 months.

Given the large numbers of dogs who are affected by sound sensitivities, more research in this area is badly needed. However, while there may be a genetic component, it’s important for dog owners to know that something can be done about fear of loud noises.

When dogs are afraid of noises, desensitization and counterconditioning can be very effective. A good dog trainer will be able to help coach you on technique if needed. New research shows that training can really make a difference to fear of fireworks (check back soon for a story on that).

It is also worth speaking to your veterinarian as they may suggest the use of medication, either at the times of year when fireworks and/or storms are expected or more generally.

Some recent research has suggested that a late onset of fear of loud noises may be a sign of pain (Lopes Fagundes et al 2018). In these cases, the fear had generalized to the environment in which the noises occur and the dog was also avoiding other dogs. The theory is that, if a dog is already in pain, a startle response to noise causes the muscles to tense which in turn causes increased pain. So if you have an adult dog who is suddenly afraid of noises, you may want to speak to your vet.

The finding of the new Japanese research is that attendance at dog training classes is helpful in terms of dogs' later fear of noises.

If you liked this post, check out my award-winning book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. Modern Dog magazine calls it "the must-have guide to improving your dog's life."

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Blackwell, E.J.,, Bradshaw, J.W.S.,, & Casey, R.A. (2013). Fear responses to noise in domestic dogs: Prevalence, risk factors and co-occurrence with other fear-related behaviour Applied Animal Behaviour Science 145:1-2, 15-25
Cutler, J. H., Coe, J. B., & Niel, L. (2017). Puppy socialization practices of a sample of dog owners from across Canada and the United States. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 251(12), 1415-1423., M. (2019). Preliminary study on the effects of attendance at dog training school on minimizing development of some anxiety disorders. Journal of Veterinary Behavior. Fagundes, A. L., Hewison, L., McPeake, K. J., Zulch, H., & Mills, D. S. (2018). Noise sensitivities in dogs: an exploration of signs in dogs with and without musculoskeletal pain using qualitative content analysis. Frontiers in veterinary science, 5, 17. 

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