A Case of Canine Noise Fear: Managing the Problem Using Behavioural Therapy in Conjunction with the Azapirone Buspirone
D. Ramos1; E.S.R.A.F. Ferreira2; K.C.A. Costa3
Fears and phobias constitute one of the most prevalent canine behavior problems seen by veterinary behaviorists. Fear of noises such as those from fireworks or even domestic sounds (e.g., from vacuum cleaners) is a common complain amongst dog owners around big cities and during specific times of the year (e.g., New Year´s Eve). Whilst some fearful dogs behave in an "active" manner when in the presence of noises demonstrating behaviors directed to the outside world (e.g., running around, destruction of the property, etc) others show a "passive" style with self directed type of behaviors such as cowering, panting and even self-injury. Other behaviors commonly associated with noise fear are trembling, seeking owner assistance and vocalization. Lack of exposure to a variety of noises or negative experiences associated to noises in early life can all result in noise fear in adulthood. In addition, owners attitude (consolation or punishment) of the fearful dog can exacerbate the problem. It is recognized that genetics may also influence auditory sensitivity. The present report describes the case of a 4 years-old female Border Collie that when in the presence of loud noises from fireworks, thunders and crowds showed panting, drooling saliva and hiding. Obedience training aiming at gaining the dog´s attention and redirecting its behavior had been unable to control the dog. The following treatment was then recommended: 1) creation of a refuge (i.e., a comfortable cage) available to the dog at any time, 2) daily training sessions involving desensitization and counterconditioning using a CD containing noises, and 3) continuous administration of the azaperone buspirone (2mg/kg every twelve hours). The owner also received general recommendations regarding avoiding punishment and consolation of the fearful dog. Treatment took twelve months in total and had 80% decrease in fearful behaviors confirmed by a noise fear scale that the owner filled in prior to treatment and on its completion. Initial signs of improvement were seen at the first month of treatment and it was sustained following medication withdrawing. Medication is a valuable tool in severe cases of noise fear and it must be used in conjunction with behavior therapy. Buspirone is of particular interest in "passive" fearful dogs as it decreases anxiety whilst raises up their confidence. Besides it has no substantial sedative effects, side effects are uncommon and it does not produce dependence.