After a long, and much needed holiday hiatus, we're back to talk more about Separation Anxiety!
Some people swear by it, others feel it's barely more than an old wives' tale, but background noise and music therapy definitely have their place in the fight against SA. In my experience, background noise can be a huge aid, especially when used correctly. If you've followed all the suggestions in the previous posts, your anxious dog will be well exercised and busy which will help her to get through the difficult first thirty minutes or so. But what happens when she hears a noise two hours later which incites her to bark, and then leads to her old patterns with no cue to help her stop? That's where music therapy and background noise come in.
Just leaving something on all the time, like a radio or the television, can help mimic what your home sounds like when you're home. I'm one of those people who generally has something babbling in the background all the time, and I can only imagine the stark contrast it would be for Charlie if it was dead silent when I was gone during the day.
Background noise can also help muffle regular daytime noises that might set off an anxious dog. Everything from other people in your building entering and exiting, dogs barking outside, the mailman, construction workers, trucks driving by, and the dreaded doorbell, etc. can all set off an anxiety attack for your dog. Muffling these triggers with background noise can really help. Over the years I've been able to lower the level of the music I leave on for Charlie from obnoxiously loud to pleasantly static background noise. I also feel that they help him get back to "normal" if there is a trigger that causes him to bark. Instead of an empty void there's a "presence" - most important if your dog is an only dog.
You can certainly just leave the usual music/TV/radio that you have playing while you're home (which I often do). It may take a few attempts to find what level is appropriate for your dog and your home. Also keep in mind what you're leaving on. Something like Animal Planet may actually trigger your dog to bark/become anxious (a dog barking on the TV might trigger a response - "know thy dog" is a great mantra!), while something you dislike (like the sports channel for me) might comfort your dog (monotonous human voices). Over time I found that my dogs do well with classical music, jazz, and the like (and I don't squirm when I come home!).
There has been a revolution in canine music therapy, most notably by the creators of Through a Dog's Ear, Lisa Spector and Joshua Leeds. From their website:
"The music of Through a Dog’s Ear builds on the ground breaking psychoacoustic research of Dr. Alfred Tomatis (1920-2001). Known as the “Einstein of the ear,” Tomatis discovered the extraordinary powers of sound as a “nutrient for the nervous system.” His therapeutic discoveries redefine modern psychoacoustics — the study of the effect of music and sound on the human nervous system.
These recordings are psychoacoustically designed to support you and your dog’s compromised immune or nervous system function. When the immune or nervous system is heavily taxed, a natural reaction is to self-limit the amount of auditory or visual stimulation coming into the system. However, the “nutrients” of sound are needed the most when life energy is at a low ebb or when neurodevelopmental (including sensory) issues are present. To facilitate maximum sound intake while conserving energy output, the method of simple sound has been created."
They have a variety of CDs with different purposes, some are generally calming, others are specifically for the car, and they have recently teamed up with the lovely Victoria Stilwell of It's Me or the Dog to create The Canine Noise Phobia Series which can help not only with SA but also with helping in the prevention of noise phobias.
If you're serious about aiding your dog, you really must give these CDs a try. In my experience, when I play the CDs I feel sleepy and relaxed, so I can only imagine how it helps my dogs cope!
There has also been an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence when these CDs were played in shelters - the dogs were much calmer and much more adoptable. May trainers play them in their facilities and I know many people who have had great success using the CDs.
If you are going to buy the CDs, make sure to check out the special offers tab where they have wonderful introductory offers.
In the next post we'll cover medication, which is a touchy, but necessary subject, so stay tuned!