Pop! Bang! Boom! Avoiding Firework and Thunderstorm Fears in Dogs

by | Jan 1, 2018 | Breeding, Dog Health, Dog Temperament, Dog Training | 10 comments

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.

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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.

Popcorn is a great way to acclimate your dog to loud sounds like fireworks and thunder

Overcome thunderstorm phobia with popcorn. Popping popcorn is a great way to acclimate your dog to loud sounds.

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
  • Pacing

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:

  • Drooling
  • 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!

Want to know more about raising healthy, stable puppies?

Check out our 8-month, self-paced online course to raising a healthy, stable litter of pups, from before breeding until sending your pups home.

RESOURCES

Legacy Canine’s Sounds Good

Dean Lake’s Sounds

Sileo, by Zoetis

10 Comments

  1. Karen Lechner

    Thanks for sharing. This could not have come at a better time. At age 7 Pepsi just developed a fear of fireworks. Time to go buy some popcorn

    • Marcy Burke

      Isn’t it amazing how the universe brings things to us without even asking? Let us know how it goes!

    • Linda

      Hi Marcy and Karen.
      It was interesting that Karen said her dog just developed a fear of fireworks at 7 years old. I have a Golden that developed a fear of thunderstorms when she was older, it might have been around 7 years of age. It surprised me because she does hunt tests and has had guns go off beside her with no problems. She is now 12 years old and gets very stressed during thunder storms. We started using homeopathic medicine from the vet (phosphorus) that we give her when a storm is coming. I wonder if the new medicine might be better?
      Marcy any idea on why dogs that have not had any problem earlier in their life, develop a fear when they are older? She was never left out in a storm, or had any trauma when there was a storm.
      Thanks Linda

      • Gayle Watkins

        Linda,
        This is Gayle here. From my experience, what happened to your golden girl is not unusual. In a few cases, late-onset storm phobia can arise from a dog’s truly frightening experience, say going through a tornado alone. But in the majority of cases, storm phobia sneaks up in middle age or even later. Like you, I’ve had it happen with two hunt test/hunting dogs that had loved gunshots throughout their lives because they meant retrieving. In the case of my present MH dog, she developed mild storm phobia around 9 and it continued until she was 13. Now that she’s 14, it’s gone. My earlier SH and Search and Rescue dog, also developed sound phobia around 9 but hers was much worse and included gunshots, clapping and other sounds. It wasn’t the loudness of the sounds that frightened her since some were subsonic for me. It wasn’t until the last months of her life at 15 that her noise phobia disappeared.

        In hind sight, I believe these dogs started showing noise stress as their hearing got worse. Hearing loss wasn’t obvious in the early years but as these dogs aged and ultimately lost much of their hearing, their fears disappeared. My theory is that for some dogs, including some hunting/hunt test dogs, how they hear specific frequencies changes and becomes painful, frightening or both. If that’s true, their response is not a phobia because it’s not irrational, it’s REAL.

        With that in mind, I focus on protecting them from the noises that bother than while still positively reinforcing them when I can’t do so. So I avoid non-storm noises with these dogs, as I can. If I can’t, I seek a place that lessens or at least dampens the noise. In the case of the two dogs I mentioned above, I moved us all to the basement, turned up the music, and played cookie games or cuddled. Not fun in the night but the more I thought of them being in pain, the more motivated I became. (I was also grateful that I didn’t live in a place with dozens of storms each year!)

        Today, I continue to do all of the things in this post to positively reinforce all of my dogs early in their lives to reduce the risk of noise phobia. However, when storm stress shows up in middle age or beyond, I assume it is pain not phobia driving their behavior and do all I can to lessen the volume of the noise for them.

        I have not tried Sileo since I don’t have a dog with noise stress at the moment but it would be worth it for dogs with moderate to severe responses.

        Is that helpful?

        • Linda

          Hi Gayle
          Thank you. Your reply was very helpful. I take my dogs down to the basement and watch TV so there is noise to cover the sound of thunder.
          I sometimes wonder if it is the sound of thunder, or the flash of lightening, with my old girl Amy. If I put her in a soft sided crate, which is dark, she seems to settle- I have tried this when I am not at home and don’t have a basement to go to.
          I will definitely try popcorn next storm. My dogs love it, so I will be popping at the first indication of a storm, and playing catch and games when it starts. We might have 3 or 4 days of storms this week, so great timing.
          Amy is 13 in Nov so it is possible her hearing is changing.
          Thanks again. I will be at your Oct seminar in Kemptville ON, so if I have a chance to talk with you , I will let you know how things workout with Amy
          Linda

          • Gayle Watkins

            You may well be right that the flashes of lightening can also disturb older dogs. I think the key is to not think of this as a phobia, an irrational fear. If what is happening is physically bothersome to dogs for whatever reason–their hearing is more sensitive or the strobing of flashes painful to their eyes–then we think about protecting them and lessening the discomfort.

            However, popcorn NEVER hurts ;-). My old girls may not love storms but they do love popcorn and tolerate the storms much better with it around. Then they go into the basement where it is quiet and darker!

            Good luck with Amy. How wonderful to still have her at 12 1/2. Please say high in October and let me know how she is doing.

  2. Vicki

    All your articles have been very
    good but this is a favorite!!!

    Also, with July 4 on a Friday
    this year people might have ‘leftover’
    fireworks to extend the celebration :0

    Thanks for sharing so much good info:)

    • Marcy Burke

      Thanks so much, Vicki! We love to share information that will help people with their dogs. If you think our articles are good, you should check out our courses! We are very excited to be starting our first one in just two weeks.

  3. Mary Minard

    I will definitely try the popcorn idea with Tilley who caught a bit of storm stress from Darby. I want to try very hard to avoid this in the new puppy especially since he has been given such a perfect introduction to storm noises. I can anticipate fireworks, storms, even yacht club cannons but sudden sounds I can not control like fog horns are harder. Guess this is like a car alarm going off next to your dog. If there are lots of foghorns it is usually a moment of excitement for us and we are busy and that stress goes right down the line to them. I will introduce foghorns at a distance with happy treats (neighbors will love this!), can’t treat Tilley for it with Sileo since it can’t be predicted. Do you have any other thoughts?

    • Gayle Watkins

      Mary,

      Good luck turning things around with Tilley and getting the new pup set up to be unfazed by storms!

      Gayle

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