Fireworks and Thunder!

Halloween is at the end of this month and that means fireworks! There are many dogs who are sensitive to loud noise and most common is a fear of thunder and fireworks. No one knows whether they experience pain or whether it’s a negative association formed from such a startling or traumatic event. 

Extreme fear in dogs can involve panting, shaking, drooling, vomiting, eliminating, running away, howling, barking, hiding, biting, destructive behaviour or completely shutting down. These dogs are truly suffering and it’s hard to watch.

Some things that can help in the moment:

Free access to a favourite hiding place. 
Ensure there is water nearby and let your dog come and go as needed vs. confining them to a crate. Most dogs do better with less space to roam about but still with the freedom to choose where they wish to be and to move when they need to.

Stay home with your dog.  
Stay calm and speak in soothing tones. Don’t admonish your dog for their behaviour. They can’t help their response, and anything perceived as punishment will make things worse.

Petting doesn’t always help.
Don’t pet your dog unless they seek contact by pushing at or ducking under your hand. Test if petting helps by giving them one long, soothing stroke down their back or side. Pause and see if they lean into you for more contact.

Reduce outside noise.
Try low music, fans, or other white noise. Pull the blinds to reduce the visual stimuli lightening. (Search “Through A Dog’s Ear” on Spotify for music designed to calm dogs.)

The presence of a calm dog friend.
Note: Only try this if your dog regularly socializes with and has happily accepted the dog in their house many times before.

Problem solving.
Activities that involve problem solving have been shown to reduce fear. Find things your dog loves to do to keep them moving and focused on tasks like treat dispensing toys, puzzles, or trick training. (Activities that are too arousing like fetch can have the opposite effect.)

Treats.
If your dog will eat, toss high value treats around the room immediately after each noise. Emotions travel backward in time, so something pleasant happening after something bad can lessen the effect of the bad over time.

Soothing scents. 
There are certain odours that can have a relaxing effect like DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) which is a synthetic version of scents emitted by mother dogs (available through your veterinarian).

If nothing seems to help, speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist for medication options. There are many options available that help dogs cope with fear. Living with constant fear and anxiety is not fun and affects quality of life.  

I’ve met many dogs who are sensitive to other sounds: electronics, lawn equipment, motorized vehicles, gunshots, sirens and even squeakers in toys. Not all dogs react in an obviously fearful manner. Some will bark at, chase, or bite the person closest to the noisy object, and some will attack the object itself. 

If you have a dog who is sensitive to sounds, go to eileenanddogs.com and search “sound sensitivity” for more information and tips.