Helping an LA Dog Afraid of Sounds Outside His Home

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 29, 2024

dog afraid of sounds

For this Los Angeles dog training session we worked with Cowboy, a 2 year-old Staffordshire Terrier; sharing tips to help a dog afraid of sounds.

I arranged to have the guardians meet me outside knowing that Cowboy is sometimes a little uncomfortable with people coming into his home if he doesn’t know them. I recommend of the guardians re-create this greeting when they have people come over to visit as it’s a nice way to the the dog up for success.

Once we got inside, we started by going over a number of dog behavior and training fundamentals. In the last decade plus, I have learned that many dog behavior problems stem from the same confusion or misunderstandings. Going over these fundamentals helps many people solve problems, in many cases, problems the humans didn’t think were connected.

We  loaded a new marker word, used hand targeting to practice timing, went over when the appropriate time is to add a cue, dog consent, body language and cut off signals as well as some creative forms of exercise like cookie in the corner. I also shared some enrichment games and tips like feeding out of a snuffle matt.

We spent some time going over ways to help Cowboy feel more relaxed and comfortable when guests visit. I also went over some things that the guardians can ask their guests to do to help cowboy feel more relaxed such as ignoring him when he first comes to sniff them.I added a ist of these tips at the bottom of this write up.

How to Help a Dog Afraid of Sounds

Cowboy’s guardians reached out to me for help after he nipped a few people. The bites happened after moving into a new home in a busier neighborhood. Although there were other factors that were contributing, I think the unknown sounds were having a massivly negative effect on young Cowboy.

Throughout the session I could see signs of stress; Cowboy’s ears were pulled back, he hqad difficulty settling, kept his front facing me and carried a tense body  He was also sound sensitive; startling at unexpected sounds. Since there were multiple sounds that happened all day long, I knew this was a dog behavior issue that needed urgent attention. I decided to show his guardians how to use desensitization and counter conditioning to help a dog who gets upset at noises.

If you have a dog who barks at sounds outside your house or gets scared, you should watch the free positive dog training video below.

By making the sound low enough that the dog doesn’t react, then giving it a treat, you can change a noise from a negative to a positive for a dog. With practice, the dog starts to associate the sound with the reward. This is the easiest way to help a dog afraid of noises.

It’s important to practice this secret to stopping dogs from being afraid of sounds often, but going at the dog’s pace. The goal is to introduce the sound at a low enough intensity / volume that the dog doesn’t react the entire practice session. Then the next session you make it slightly more intense (louder) and repeat again at a slightly more intense level untl eventually the dog isn’t scared when it hears the sound at full volume.

Its easy to help a dog get over a fear of sounds with this technique beause we dont ask the dog for more than s/he can give. That’s why you need to pay close atteention to the dog’s body language as you practice so you can stop before the dog feels the need to. Over time, you can progressivly make the sound louder and louder, but the dog is practiced at not reacting becase you are going slow.

While knocking at the door wasnt a chief trigger for cowboy, the technique is the same. I suggested the guardians record audio of things they cant control such as the trash truck or delivery driver. This recording gives the humans the ability to practice this tip to help dogs who bark at sounds when you have time and the dog is in the right state of mind. They want to practice when Cowboys is calma nd relaxed, not when he is excited or wound up.

Desensitizing a fearful dog to the sounds he is scared of will have a profound impact on his quality of life. As humans, we become desensitized to things easily and often we dont recognize when those sounds are scaring a dog. We just see thier reaction as somehting we dont want and this causes us to search for the fastest way to make it stop. But all behavior is trying to achieve somehting. In Cowboy’s case, he was to make the scary thing go away.

Towards the end of the session, Cowboy got upset when I walked near his kennel. He didn’t bite, but if I had reacted in a different way, things smay have turned out differently. I feel that the incident was a result on a combinaiton of potential resource guarding, all the work we did (Cowboy was tired) and my being in his home for an extended period of time. When multiple things occur that creates a negative reaction for a dog, we like to call that “Trigger Stacking.”

Since Cowboy has some relatives coming to stay with them for a few days in the future, I made a few recommendations:

  1. Do the greeting introductions individully and outside just like I did for today’s session.
  2. Go out to dinner with the guests an hour or two after they arrive. This gives Cowboy time to rest and recover.
  3. Take Cowboy into a bedroom away fromt he guests for a 30 minute break every few hours or when Cowboy seems stressed. Like to see a 30 min nap for every 2-3 hours the guests are around Cowboy.
  4. Give Cowboy a lick mat with PB or cream cheese on it when the humans are in the room. Do this once a day while guests are staying.
  5. Tell the guardians to avoid surprising Cowboy. If he is asleep and they want to get up, tap their foot or make a fake cough so we wakes up and sees them before they move.
  6. Give the guests small bag of treats and go over how to load and use a marker word. That way they can ask Cowboy for sits, downs, etc and reward him for listening to them.
  7. Have the guests go with a guardian and Cowboy for a walk each day. Alternating the guests on each walk would be a good idea.
  8. Watch Cowboy closely for Cut off Signals or body language that indicates he is stressed or unhappy. Move him away or give him a break as soon as you see the first indicaiton.
  9. Put Cowboy away when the humans eat or if they engage in an activity that gets arroused (game of cards, watching the Super Bowl, etc). Over excitement is a contributing factor for many dog bites.
  10. Get Cowboy desensitized to as many of the sounds he is scared oof or reacts to before the guests arrive.

I think the recurring breaks will probably be the most helpful, aside from desensitizing him to the sounds he doesnt like outside the home. This will be the thing that has the most impact as it will bring relief every day. But it will tkae soem time so they guardians need to practice often.

To help the guardians remember everything we covered in this in home LA dog training session, I recorded a roadmap to success summary video that you can check out below.

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This post was written by: David Codr