Desensitising your dog to loud noises

31 May 2023

Life in general can be very noisy, and many dogs find loud noises scary and stressful. Desensitising your dog to loud noises is a good way to keep them calm in situations that may otherwise make them anxious.

A brown dog lies on a bed while a person gently places their hand over the dog's ear

While there are things you can do to calm your dog during a period of loud noises, such as fireworks, or Bonfire night, getting your dog used to loud sounds can be a better long-term solution. By gradually desensitising your dog to loud noises over a period of time, you can teach them to associate these sounds with something positive, instead of something to be scared of.

This process should be carried out over a gradual period of time and can take months. We’re going to use fireworks as an example, however, if it’s too late to do this, we have some tips on how to manage your dog’s stress during loud noises too.

Watch the video below and follow the steps to help desensitise your dog to loud noises.


How to make your dog less stressed by loud noises

Before you start, you will need to buy or stream some related sound effects or noises, such as fireworks, and have some way of playing them out loud.

It’s important that the training is done with your dog indoors, away from distractions, and make sure your dog can easily leave the room if they want to. (If they do choose to leave this could be an indicator that you have progressed too quickly and need to go back a few steps in the training).

To begin with, get your dog settled in the room and play the sounds they are least scared of at the lowest possible volume.

Increase the volume very, very slowly, until you see the first signs that your dog is reacting to the noise. A reaction might be small, such as twitching their ears. Once your dog starts to react, leave the sounds at that volume for a few minutes to let them get used to it.

If at any point your dog is scared or stressed by the noise, remain calm and stop playing the sounds immediately. This means you may have progressed too quickly, so start from a lower volume next time.

Play the sounds at this low level for 5-10 minutes, 3-4 times a day. Once your dog has stopped responding to the noise, you can turn the volume up slightly, until they begin to respond again. Again, if your dog shows any signs of stress, stop the sounds and start at a lower volume the next day.

Keep playing the sounds in this way daily, over a period of weeks, until your dog no longer reacts to the sounds, even at a higher volume.

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Building a positive association between your dog and loud noises

Once your dog’s been desensitised to the sounds, you can start to build a positive association between your dog and loud noises, such as fireworks.

To start, prepare your dog’s food or get out one of their toys. If they get excited, sit down calmly for a few minutes and let them settle before starting the training session.

Once your dog has calmed down, play the sounds at a very low volume again. If possible, start it with a remote control so your dog doesn’t see you do it.

As soon as you hear the sounds give your dog their food or start to play with them. Once your dog has finished eating or playing, turn off the sounds straight away. This is so that they start to associate the sound with something positive happening.

Do this a few times over the course of a few days until your dog starts to get excited when they hear the sounds. Once your dog has made this initial connection you can begin to increase the volume a little each time.

Eventually your dog will begin to associate the sounds with something enjoyable like eating or playing, and it will be much easier to keep them calm in noisy situations.

Once your dog is less reactive and their emotional response to loud sounds has changed, we would still recommend taking steps to manage their stress in specific situations. Fireworks for example are a common trigger for dogs to become stressed and worried. Take a look at our advice on keeping your dog calm during firework season itself. Even if your dog seems comfortable with the sound of fireworks, we still wouldn’t recommend taking them to a display.

If your dog is still stressed by loud noises after trying these steps, you should consult your vet for further advice.

Download these tips as a handy advice sheet to use for regular training: