Fireworks, Phobias and Your Dog

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DSC 5150Even though the 4th is just one day, the fireworks last for several days. Sometimes a month or more. For those living with a dog afraid of loud noises, it’s a very long time.

With the holiday quickly approaching, here are some practical tips for surviving the fireworks, and making things more comfortable for your dog.

Some Background on Noise Phobias

A dog afraid of loud noises can’t help it. It is an honest fear of sound. It may have roots in a particular incident or storm, or they may be born with it. Dogs with separation anxiety have a higher incidence of noise phobias. Noise phobias usually worsen over time, and other dogs in the household may ‘learn’ to be afraid of loud noises, too. When they see their buddy obviously worried about something, it is common to join in.

By approaching noise phobia quickly and completely, you help the dog affected, companion dogs, and people, too. It is no fun being near a panting, drooling, trembling, hiding and pacing dog. Calming words usually don’t help, and your dog may pick up on your stress, making the situation worse.

Here are some of my favorite tools to manage noise phobia. As always, if your dog has issues with noise, please talk to your veterinarian – there are very safe and effective medications to help with this condition.

Loud Noise Toolbox

Create a safe space and accentuate normal activities – Dogs pick up on what we are feeling. Being annoyed, tense, or trying to soothe your dog may just make things worse. Put on some music or turn on the TV to create a sense of calm normal. I will use a treat or a play fetch with a toy to help distract. If Sophie responds as normal, then her stress levels are OK. There are many ‘white noise’ CDs and iTunes types of apps to play in the background, or you can make your own by turning on bathroom fans, stove fans, etc. something to dampen the noise of fireworks.

Plan the potty breaks – I always let the dogs out ‘one more time’ before bed. If fireworks are happening, no way will Sophie do her business. I plan ahead by taking several walks in the day time, planning an earlier than usual meal, and doing the last outing just at sunset – before the main fireworks start. This means an early outing the next morning, but it has helped tremendously.

SophieThundershirt 3644
Sophie wearing the Thundershirt

Thundershirt – The Thundershirt is easy to use and surprisingly effective. I say surprisingly, because I had my doubts when I was sent one to try out on my dog for a review, but it works well for my dog. I took this photo last night (July 1st) as she slept through fireworks happening outside. You can order these online or find them at local retailers. You can also try to make your own wrap to help with anxiety.

DAP Collar/Spray/Diffuser products – DAP, short for Dog Appeasing Pheromone, is our best friend. It is completely safe and non-toxic and works wonders for Sophie, creating a sense of calm and it works amazingly well with the other techniques above. Learn more about the DAP collar and DAP spray. These products can be purchased online or at local retailers.

Call your veterinarian – As always, your veterinarian is your first stop to discuss behavior changes or problems. It is important to rule out any underlying medical problems. Your veterinarian can also prescribe medication such as anxiolytics to reduce the anxiety without making your pet ‘out of it.’ Learn more about treating noise phobias.

Even though it is the holiday, call your veterinarian. If you do not have an emergency clinic in your area, your veterinarian should have recorded instructions about who to contact in the case of an emergency. Veterinary emergency clinics commonly deal with these issues.

Stopping the Trend

Each time your dog makes it through fireworks or a thunderstorm with a sense of calm/confidence, it helps slow the trend of getting worse each time (untreated). Sophie’s overall noise sensitivity has decreased, using products such as the Thundershirt and DAP. She will never love fireworks, but instead of hearing one and trembling and pacing for an hour, she lays down right away and sleeps like usual or eagerly accepts a treat. I can live with that. I don’t want my two Greyhounds to ‘learn’ to be afraid, and they are loving the unsolicited treats!

Additional tips: Fireworks and Thunder – Loud Noise Phobias