Fear of thunder or fireworks is common among dogs—in fact, more dogs get loose on the Fourth of July than any other time of the year. But there is a way to help your pooch overcome his fears. Here are some tips from experts at the AKC GoodDog! Helpline:
1. Know what your dog loves. You'll need to select a treat that he finds desirable enough that the emotional response it elicits is stronger than their fear.
2. Observe your dog and learn his particular body language so you can tell when he is beginning to stress. This is an important one: To successfully recondition a dog’s emotional response he needs to be in a state of mind where he can respond to you. Call your dog when he first shows any sign of stress—this may be as early as when the air pressure changes, long before the thunder cracks.
3. After the fireworks (or whatever triggers the stress response), quickly cheer, “Oh, wow! Storm Treats!” as you give him that special something that he loves so much. The goal is for the scary sound to become a predictor of something great instead of something to fear.
4. Consider getting a CD or digital recording of storm noises or fireworks. This will help you start the desensitation process before the snap, crackle pop starts or that 3 a.m. storm hits by surprise. Play the recording on a low volume while you present the high-value treat. You can gradually increase the volume as your dog starts associating the noises with the yummy food treats.
5. Have patience. Conditioning your dog to associate thunder or fireworks with something wonderful takes time and multiple experiences.
6. Get assistance. For minor cases, the experts at the GoodDog! Helpline can be of assistance. More extreme cases, though, might need veterinary intervention.