Pop! Bang! Boom! Avoiding Firework and Thunderstorm Fears in Dogs
AVOID OR CURE YOUR DOG’S FEAR OF STORMS, FIREWORKS AND LOUD NOISES!
There are few things sadder and more frustrating for owners than dogs with thunderstorm phobia, fear of fireworks or just general anxiety over loud noises. These dogs suffer greatly as do their owners. However dogs do not have to be afraid during these situations.
So what can you do to keep your puppy or dog from developing a fear of loud noises? Here are some ideas to teach your dog not to be afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks.
Dogs aren’t crazy!
The first thing to understand is that many dogs’ fear of thunderstorms and fireworks are not phobias! Phobias are extreme or irrational fears. Our dogs are NOT dumb–there are some very good, rational reasons to be afraid of both thunderstorms and pyrotechnics! A healthy respect for electrical storms and fireworks is good for dogs and people. Rather than having no fear at all, our goal is to keep our dogs from developing extreme or irrational fear of these sounds.
Storms/Firecrackers = Treats!
We live where storms and fireworks are common so our objective is to keep our dogs calm enough to eat during these events throughout their lives. That one simple act—eating–is often enough to delay or avoid the development of extreme fear reactions. Why do we care about dogs eating during noisy events? Dog trainers know that extremely stressed dogs don’t eat. Thus, we want to maintain our dogs’ stress low enough that they can gobble down favorite treats. Remember, your dog doesn’t have to *do* anything during storms or fireworks except eat. He doesn’t have to sit or lie down, play, or even do his tricks.
All we want is for him to think that storms or fireworks equal delicious treats!
BEFORE A STORM OR FIREWORKS EVENT
1. Play Sound Recordings.
There are excellent sound recordings to help condition dogs to the sound of storms and rockets. I’ve included a list of the ones we use at the end of this blog. You can buy CDs or download the recordings onto your iPod. Start on low volume during meals and eventually bring up the volume during times your dog is happy. That might be when he is playing or cuddling with you.We play these recordings over and over for every puppy we produce. We start at mealtimes and play the sound at a very low volume beginning at 5 weeks of age. Gradually, we play them louder and louder while we toss treats into the puppy pen. If we are lucky enough to have a storm or 4th of July while we have a litter here, we have a party in the puppy pen, tossing treats and playing with the babies while the noises surround us.
2. Find Favorites.
Before the first storm or 4th of July, figure out your dog’s favorite treats and indoor games. Pack up some of the treats and store them in the freezer so they’ll be ready whenever you need them. Have everything you need for indoor games, such as the right toys or props.
My dogs love pork so I get inexpensive pork and cook it up some weekend during the spring. I cut it up into bite-size pieces, put them in sandwich bags and store them in the freezer.
I also get a NEW can of tennis balls because even though my dogs have dozens of balls around, popping a new can open sends them into paroxysm of delight. I store away a few big, thick pizzel sticks and freeze some juicy marrow bones.
3. Mmm, mmm, popcorn!
Finally, buy some popcorn. Most dogs adore this low-calorie, easy-on-the-stomach treat. A few times before storm or firework season, pop up some popcorn—no salt or butter. Toss handfuls of popcorn around the kitchen, letting your dog gobble up the kernels. You are teaching your dog that the sound of the popping means that yummy popcorn is falling from the sky. Now you are all set for the noisy summer!
4. See your vet.
If your dog has shown increasing fear of storms or fireworks, go see your vet to find out if the new medication, Sileo, might help your dog. Sileo is a gel that comes in a pre-filled needle-less syringe. You dial your dog’s weight, then put the syringe between the dog’s gums and lip. The gel is absorbed by the dog’s tissue lining in its cheek. It blocks norepinephrine, a brain chemical that increases anxiety, within 30 to 60 minutes. It works for two to three hours, enough time to keep them calm during a fireworks show or a thunderstorm.
A STORM IS BREWING!
1. Watch the Weather.
Keep an eye on the weather. On days when a storm is coming, get out your dog’s identification collar, the one with his license and your phone number on it. Put it with his leash in the house. Be sure you have favorite treats, toys and chewies.
2. Add background noise.
If you have to leave your dog, leave a radio or television on to give some background noise.
3. Potty your dog BEFORE the storm.
Dogs can be hit and even killed by lightning so do not allow your dog outside during a thunderstorm. If you know one is coming, have your dog potty well before the storm’s arrival.
4. Give your dog Sileo.
If you are using Sileo for your dog, give it before the storm arrives.
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DURING A STORM OR FIREWORKS EVENT
1. Close up the house.
If possible, close your doors and windows and doors as the storm approaches. Closing the house up muffles the noise and limits unexpected events like wind gusts that can frighten dogs. If you have to leave your dog home on a day when bad storms are expected, leave the house closed and put the dog in the lowest, most centrally located portion of the house.
For us, that would be the basement so we put dog beds down there and leave the basement door open. They can choose to go down if the noise gets to be too much. We turn the lights on, move the water dish downstairs before leaving. If you are still crating your dog, cover the crate with a dark sheet and move it to the place in the house where the noise will be the least.
2. Make things bright and cheery.
Turn on music, play the TV, and set up a white noise machine to help cover the sounds of the storm or celebration. Turn on all the lights so the flashes of lightening or fire crackers don’t startle your dog.
3. ID please!
If you do not keep a collar on your dog, put his ID collar on now. Dogs can bolt at unexpected times during frightening events so you want to know ahead of them that he can be identified if something happens.
4. Pop! Pop!
Assuming it’s not the middle of the night, make popcorn once the booms and pows start. Make it a party, having fun with your dog while you pop the popcorn. Then toss it around the kitchen WHEN thunder rolls or a firework explodes. Time the treat with the noise and your dog will soon look forward to the loudness.
5. Watch for fear.
Keep an eye on your dog as the noise increases. Watch for signs of mild anxiety. If you see any, get out the special treats and toys. Play some games and spend time with your dog.
- Panting when it is not hot
- Tightness in the corner of his mouth
- Ears back
If you begin to see signs of more intense fear, you need to take action to move your dog to a place where he feels safe. Watch for:
- Shaking or shivering
- Trying to hide in “safe” places (crates, bathrooms, closets, basements)
6. Time to Play.
Don’t hesitate to train, play or just hang out with your dogs during storms. Do whatever he enjoys most. In really bad storms, I play fetch in the basement with the new can of tennis balls with my dogs. As a result, their eyes light up when they hear storms because they know it’s going to be a fun time.
7. Stay indoors!
If at all possible, keep your dog inside during storms or fireworks. If your dog simply must potty, take him outside ON LEASH! A boom of thunder or a firecracker can send even the most stable dog running if it happens at the wrong time.
How have you ensured your dog doesn’t develop a fear of thunder and fireworks? Share your ideas in the comments below!
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