I recently visited a dog I was pet sitting for and walked in to the house early in the morning to find she had soiled the house in multiple places. This shocked me because the dog had never eliminated in the house before and had completely relieved herself at bedtime the night before.
It only took a minute to figure out the problem. The smoke alarms were chirping. And Cassie was terrified.
Given the amount of waste in the house, I suspect the alarms had been chirping for hours. Cassie was panting and pacing and clearly traumatized. She had torn some curtains trying to get out of the house. The first thing I did was put her out in the fenced yard. But after removing the battery of the alarm I thought was chirping, the noise continued.
After a few phone calls, I learned that in order to stop the chirping, I could not just remove the batteries, but had to replace all the smoke alarm batteries in the house. I took the dog with me, went to the hardware store and was able to replace all the batteries. But Cassie was still terrified and did not want to be in the house.
I wrapped her in a Thundershirt, which is a tight wrap that helps calm dogs. With that and a few hours of extra time with her, she finally calmed down enough and went to sleep.
As many as 20 percent of dogs suffer from noise phobias so severe that their people seek professional help for them, according to veterinary behaviorist Bonnie Beaver in her book Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians.
My experience with Cassie is not uncommon. Months earlier at another clients home, I entered to find the same situation – the dogs had relieved themselves in the house and were frantic. In that case, it was a beeping carbon monoxide detector that had to be replaced.
After my incident with Cassie, I posted the warning on my Facebook page. Two days later I got a message from a friend who said if she hadn’t read my post, she would have made and emergency trip to the vet. “The day I read your post about fire alarms, mine started to chirp during the night. Ellie LOST it. She was shaking so hard that I thought she was having a seizure. I held her 10 minutes before she finally calmed down.”
There are a lot of ways to treat noise phobia and desensitize dogs to noises. In this case, the best remedy is to avoid the noise by regularly changing the batteries in your alarms. The National Association of State Fire Marshals recommends changing smoke alarm batteries once a year. It might be worth asking customers if their smoke alarm batteries have been changed in the past year before they go on a trip. I now carry a supply of 9-volt batteries in my supply bag just in case.