Plenty of dogs are afraid of loud noises. Most dogs take them in stride, but those who don’t can be difficult to help. The Fourth of July, of course, comes with fireworks that can be scary for many pets.
Fear of loud noises is stressful for dogs and can limit activities they can enjoy. When it comes to fireworks, you must find ways to manage the situation in order to ease his fears. They are unique and since they only happen once a year (well, the occasional New Year’s celebration may have some) there are not many chances to get accustomed to them.
Thunder, fireworks, and loud vehicles are probably the most common noise phobia triggers. Dogs’ sensitivity to the changes in barometric pressure can trigger fearful reactions to thunder long before humans even hear it. Pay attention to weather forecasts and schedules of holiday fireworks displays so you can prepare your dog before the ruckus starts.
Here are some ways to help your dog feel safe when things go boom:
1. Before your dog has a chance to get upset about a noise, distract with a game of fetch or tug, or other favorite activity. Practice some tricks and/or obedience skills and give nice rewards for focusing on you. When your dog can’t focus, stop. Don’t create an unpleasant association with games and behaviors that are normally fun.
2. Reward calm behavior. Don’t wait for your dog to exhibit stress before you give attention. Play calming music or turn on the television; these may help to muffle the sounds.
3. Provide a safe haven for your dog or enhance one that is already a favorite. Put your dog’s crate or bed in it. Give a very special long-lasting treat or a hollow rubber chew toy that can be stuffed with something good.
4. Leave the crate door open because some dogs will injure themselves trying to get out. If your dog’s fearfulness turns to panic that results in attempts to escape a crate or the house, consult your veterinarian about medication to help. And don’t leave a fearful dog home alone during times that fireworks are booming. Don’t open an outside door unless the dog is crated or behind an interior door – this will eliminate any chance to bolt outside in fear. Dogs can be injured or lost in their efforts to get away from frightening noises.
5. If your dog is a puppy, you have the opportunity to condition to loud noises early. You can condition your older dog too; just take it very slowly because it may take months to alleviate established fears. Get a helper to drop a book (from a good distance) as you reward and play with the dog. It’s normal if the dog startles at first. Stay calm and cheerful yourself, give treats, and your dog will learn that it’s nothing to worry about. The book dropping can get gradually louder and nearer as the dog is less affected by the noise.
6. Play recordings of scary noises at a low volume while you feed your dog, play favorite games, or engage in any favorite activity. Just remember to do these fun things at normal times too, so your dog doesn’t think that they only go with storms or fireworks! Gradually increase the volume as the dog feels comfortable. If at any point you see fear, reduce the volume to a tolerable level and start there.
7. Ear muffs specially made for dogs might be helpful. Introduce them to your dog gradually, as you would any new thing. For the first few days, place them near the bowl as she eats. Then put them loosely around the dog’s neck for a few minutes while you give lots of special treats. Over several days (or more, depending on your dog), move gradually to putting them over the ears, for a few minutes at a time while again giving more good treats. Do this well in advance of the Fourth of July and storm season.
Any calming device, whether it be earmuffs, soft music, or a snug dog shirt, should be occasionally used when it’s quiet, the weather is good and your dog is happy. This will help develop positive associations with them—not just scary ones.