Training Part 2: Noise Desensitization
In the first article on environmental training, we discussed how to overcome the fear of certain locations. Now we will look at how to overcome the issue of fearing sounds and desensitizing the dog to loud noises.
Get an empty plastic milk carton or any plastic container that has a handle. Place a hand full of rocks in the container and seal it shut. Take a rope and tie one end to the handle of the container. Take the other end and tie it to the dog's collar. Make sure the rope is long enough so the container can drag on the floor a foot or two on the ground behind the dog. Then hook your leash onto the dog and take the dog for a walk.
At first, some dogs may be startled by the noise of the container filled with rocks, so it is essential that you have your dog on leash or else your dog may try to run. Ignore any reaction from the dog and simply go on your walk. Eventually, the dog will get accustomed to this constant noise.
Another thing you can do to help desensitize your dog to loud noises in general is to place it in its crate and place it next to your television. For those who have home theater systems, place the dog next to one of the speakers. Put in an action movie into your DVD player and turn up the volume. Of course don't turn the volume so high that it injures the dog's ears.
The tactics mentioned above can help desensitize the dog to loud noises in general, however, sometimes there are specific sounds a dog is afraid of. We will use the sound of metal pots banging together in this example, however, once you understand the training concept, the same technique can be applied to anything from gun fire to loud machinery.
While the dog is eating its food out of its bowl, stand back about 20 feet and bang the metal pots together once. If the dog backs way from the food and stops eating, you are too close and need to back up more. When you are at distance that does not stop the dog from eating, stand in place and bang the pots together repeatedly until the dog is finished eating.
The next day, feed the dog in the exact same spot, but stand a few feet closer and bang the pots together. Once again, if the dog backs away from the food, back up slightly as you have advanced too close too soon. Repeat this each time your dog eats its meal until you can stand by the dog while it is eating and have it completely unaffected by the noise. Once you have accomplished this, walk towards the dog as you make the noise. If the dog is fine with you walking towards it while making the noise, then run towards it while making the noise. If the dog ever backs away from the food while you are walking or running towards it and making the noise, immediately stop moving forward until the dog continues to eat and slow down the pace in which you are advancing.
When it is no longer bothered by the noise when eating, have someone else make the noise and do obedience with the dog. It is important that the dog is not only unafraid of the noise, but also able to completely ignore it when a big bowl of food is no longer present and you are giving it commands.
Once you have done this to help your dog overcome the fear of a certain noise, you will see much faster results when the trainer uses his strategies during bitework in the presence of that noise.