‘My dog is scared of loud noises — and now a building site has appeared next door. What can I do?’ Expert trainer Ben Randall shares his advice

Award-winning dog trainer Ben Randall explains how to help your dog get used to loud noises.

Plenty of dogs — and people — aren’t keen on loud noises, but for the most part it’s a manageable problem. After all, when the fireworks start flying on Bonfire Night, July 4th or or New Year’s Eve, you can always keep your pooch safely tucked up indoors.

But what can you do when your dog is scared of loud noises that you simply can’t get away from? That’s the issue faced by this week’s reader, who emailed me at paws-for-thought@futurenet.com for some advice.

Hi Ben, my pup Huckleberry is a very skittish dog when it comes to noise during his walks and potty time. He’s a Pembroke Welsh corgi, just over a year old.

He’s always been afraid of the train when it comes by, to the point where he pulls on his leash and yells out to get back to the house. It got to the point where we memorised the train schedule and made sure to plan walks around it.

However, there’s now a noise we can’t get away from. A few weeks ago, construction started just behind my house on a large apartment building, and the noise has been a huge issue for Huck. Trucks are constantly backing up, there are cranes, piledrivers, bulldozers and nailguns going, to the point where Huck won’t even step outside unless I carry him. The only way I can get him to use the bathroom is walking him about half a mile away, then walking back.

Any tips on how to get him more comfortable around the noise? — R.O., via email

I do really feel for you and Huck in this situation — I know it won’t be easy for you, especially not being in control of the noise in your home environment.

In my BG (Beggarbush) training I see these issues quite regularly with things like fireworks, thunder, or loud bangs from guns, where dogs have some kind of negative association with loud noises.

And although I’m based in the countryside rather than a busy city with construction work going on here and there, I often deal with an equivalent situation which I think can be adapted for you. Much of my time working is in training gundogs, and it’s not always easy getting a dog comfortable with the noise of gunshots. Could it be something that has happened in the 10 months or so you’ve had him? That’s also something that I’ve seen, not least with people who have rushed the training of a young gundog and let off a shot without due warning. That can really be detrimental, and when dogs start to get scared and become gun-shy, it can take a couple of months of rehab. Getting a dog to trust the bang is tough.

The key thing is to use a combination of entertainment, distraction and patience to gently and consistently get your dog used to loud noises. ‘Desensitisation’ is a word I really hate to use as often I think it’s bandied around inappropriately, but in this case it fits the bill: go through the steps below, and you’ll find that eventually a car could backfire right next to Huckleberry and he’ll barely raise an eyebrow.

1. Identify the thing that your dog loves doing, and get him used to noise while he’s doing it

We need to start working on getting your dog comfortable with loud noises going off around him, and the simplest shortcut to that is to introduce that noise while he’s doing his favourite thing. Trying to get the dog used to noise simply by being around it doesn’t work — but giving him something more interesting to think about while the noise is going on is where I’ve seen success.

So it’s up to you to find that thing which will keep his mind occupied. It might be a game or activity, and for most dogs it’ll involve eating — so long as it’s something he loves doing enough to carry on doing it when the noise starts, it’ll work.

If you’re using mealtimes, try to make sure that breakfast and dinner coincide with the noise coming from the building site. If that’s not possible, then download some loud noises on to your phone, and start playing them every day while he eats. Each day you can increase the volume and frequency of the loud noises, and you’ll gradually begin to desensitise him.

2. Take him outside and keep him happy while the noise is going on

Once you’ve mastered noise inside with your phone, it’s time to start taking him outside. At breakfast and dinner, and lunch too if you’re still feeding him during the day, lead Huckleberry out into the garden to be fed — keeping him on the lead, at least initially. The key thing is that you’re engaging with him outside while the construction noise is happening.

You may find that the transition from inside to outside is too jarring at first, and that’s fine — just find another way to ease him into it. You could head back inside but this time keep a window open to the noise, to get him used to it more gradually. I do a very similar thing with gun-shy dogs: I’ll take them to clay pigeon grounds and park at the far end of the field, then keep them distracted — with food, or games — while gradually moving them closer and closer to the noise. The dogs gets more used to the bangs without even realising it, since they’re distracted by something fun.

Hoping for the best while it’s noisy won’t do much — but actively keeping your dog engaged and entertained while the noise goes on will pay dividends.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat

Repetition and consistency, as always with dog training, are the key. If you feed your dog outside three times a day, with the noises going on, that’s 90 times in a month that he’ll experience positive, happy feelings instead of negativity while the noises are going off. You mentioned that you’re already having to take him outside and down the road for toilet breaks, but even these are an opportunity: make them fun, reward him with some kibble, gradually bring it closer to home. Think of every interaction as a chance to get things just a little better every time, and to reinforce the idea that loud noises aren’t something to be scared of, but something he can be completely comfortable around.

Ben Randall’s book, ‘How to Train Your Gundog’, is out now. You can order it here at £40.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial