For parents of dogs that fear loud, unknown noises, a booming crack or the startling burst of fireworks in the distance can mean hours of heartache and helplessness trying to comfort our terrified four-legged family member.
If your dog becomes nervous, fearful, or panicked during loud events like thunderstorms or fireworks, there are a few things you can do to help him remain calm.
1. Shower him with love and positive attention. A common misconception exists that says giving attention to your dog when he’s afraid will only reinforce that fear. This is absolutely false! In fact, the opposite is true. Your dog depends on you for guidance and direction.
Ignoring your dog or forcing him to deal with his fear alone will not teach him anything. Never, ever punish a dog for being afraid. This will only serve to make him even more fearful.
So, if you know that the loud noise of a thunderstorm or fireworks celebration makes your pooch anxious, providing lots of love and affection in a calm, happy manner will show him that you’re there and will keep him safe. Pet, cuddle, and massage your dog in an attempt to keep him calm and content. Eventually, he should begin to associate the scary noises with something good – positive attention and love – and will no longer react fearfully.
2. Play some music. Aside from helping to mask the noise of thunder or fireworks, certain types of music have been scientifically proven to calm nervous or fearful dogs. Through a Dog’s Ear is a series of music CDs created especially for dogs dealing with a variety of anxieties. (Works great for dogs with separation anxiety, too!)
3. Try a Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap. While they may look like just a tight-fitting shirt for your dog, anxiety wraps or Thundershirts, when properly fitted, are designed to apply gentle, even pressure to certain pressure points in the body that instantly calm your dog. Pet parents dealing with all sorts of anxieties in their dogs swear by the wraps for their ability to instantly provide comfort to a frightened pup. (In a pinch, try this DIY anxiety wrap using a scarf or ace banadage)
4. Divert your dog’s attention. Pull out some of her favorite toys and have a fun play session with your pooch. An entertaining play time will help keep your dog distracted until the source of her anxiety is over. Plus, she’ll begin to associate the scary sounds with fun play time and, over time, will become less fearful.
5. Provide him a safe haven. If your pooch runs to a particular area in your house each time the thunder cracks, make that spot a comfy place for him. Put his blanket and favorite toy there, provide a favorite long-lasting chew or treat, provide “white noise” like soft music or a television, and allow him to stay in that spot until he finally feels okay coming out. Many dogs find great comfort inside of a crate or kennel during times of stress.
When your dog is in a fearful state, never, ever, force him to do something he isn’t comfortable with. For example, giving your dog a bath or trimming his nails would best be suited for another time. Coupling something he doesn’t like along with the thunderstorm or fireworks will strengthen that fear.
Tip: Experiment with using more than one of these techniques in combination with another. No single method works for every dog and the ultimate goal is for your unique pup to feel calm and comfortable.
Other Things to Try
- Desensitization. There are times when it’s possible to alleviate your dog’s fears by playing thunderstorm sounds when it’s not storming outside. Find a CD or download thunderstorm or fireworks sound clips to use. Play at a low volume at first while comforting your dog with pleasant stimuli such as pettings and treats. Do this for only a few minutes each day over several weeks, slowly increasing the volume until you can play the sounds at their natural noise level while your dog remains content and calm. The gradual exposure to the source of his fear, combined with pleasant stimuli like petting or playing, will eventually reduce Fido’s anxiety to it. Fortunately, this technique works very well for many pets. For more information and a link to sounds, click here.
- Medication and Natural Therapies. A dog owner is never thrilled with the necessity to use drugs in relieving their pooch’s fears. But, remember for those extreme cases, medicating your dog to keep him calm can be better for his health and well-being than not treating his condition. Talk to your vet about anxiety medications for your dog. Now for milder cases, you can try lavender oil or flower extracts to help appease your pooch. Many dogs also respond well to special pheremone collars, sprays, or diffusers designed to calm anxiety.
- Animal Behaviorist. Even if you find relief using one or more of the methods above, an animal behaviorist may be able to provide additional insight into your fearful dog’s behavior and how to best deal with it. Your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, even a dog trainer may have specialized training in managing this kind of canine behavior.
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