Yesterday as I was doing the morning pack walk in Quiet Waters we had several opportunities to see the Blue Angels practice what they do. All of the dogs in the park had some reaction to it. Some turned their heads to look at what I was looking at, some pinned their ears and got low to the ground; a classic fear response. Few dogs were immune to the pandemonium overhead, though I did see several using the flyover as a time to sniff while their owners watched the planes. Those are the dogs that I pay attention to because some work went into inuring them to those sorts of noises. The good news is that it can be your dog too! It’s never too late to help your dog with their fear of loud noises, and with Memorial Day and the Fourth of July right around the corner, we can start preparing now. Here are some tips to help get your dog ready.
In order to maintain your own state of zen, consider your own feelings about storms and loud noise. Make an effort to limit the transmission of your own anxiety, if it exists. Most dogs are highly sensitive to the moods of their owners and will pick up on our stress. This is according to several studies (including a recent one here https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stress-sniffing-dogs-can-detect-human-distress-with-nearly-94-percent-accuracy-study-shows ). They took a drop of sweat from a person exercising and a person in a stressed and agitated state. They presented these samples to the dogs and they showed avoidance behaviors towards the stress sweat. We want to help give our dogs calm, but you can’t give away something that you don’t have.
*Image courtesy of Dr. Sophia Yin*
I also recommend that you create a safe environment for your fearful pet. Consider using white noise or soothing music to mask the sounds of a storm or fireworks. Make your pet’s crate safe and welcoming, perhaps offering a special treat as a distraction or enticement. Special treats like Bully Sticks, Frozen Kongs or lick mats with peanut butter or canned food can be a great way to distract your dog. I keep a freezer full of frozen kongs for this exact purpose (or when I need a little quiet time). You can add a little wet canned food to their kibble, stuff it in the toy and freeze it. Against The Grain makes single ingredient canned food that I have been using a lot lately; they dont pay me or anything, I just like them!
It is very important that with any of these distractions like music or special food that we aren’t using them for the first time when the dog is fearful, otherwise the radio or delicious food can be a harbinger of scary things to come. In the few days leading up to the holidays, begin to use the radio/white noise machine during the day so that your pup can associate the noise with happy times with you. I would also recommend doing this for a couple days after the holiday as there are always folks using up their last firecrackers. Take some of their upcoming meals and gussy them up with something special, and stuff them in a kong (freezing is recommended but not a necessity). This will help your dog to be soothed by the distractions because they will have built a positive association with them. No matter what you do to help your dog cope, don’t do it for the first time when there are fireworks going off.
GOOD BOOM! With younger dogs, inuring them to fireworks can be as easy as pretending like your dog was the one to light it. Keepsome high value treats handy, wait for your dog to turn their head or startle at the sound of the explosion, say “Good boom!” and offer them some of your tasty treats. As long as your pet doesn’t have any dietary restrictions, you can never go wrong with boiled chicken or freeze dried liver. If you start this at a young age you can have a dog that will look forward to each summer holiday. If you want to do some extra prep work, you can find a recording online of similar frightening sounds – such as traffic or white noise – and play the sound at a low volume, gradually increasing intensity over time, whilst always making sure to stay below the threshold that causes your dog to become anxious. This route can be especially helpful if your dog is already a little jumpy around noises, as this lets you start at the lowest volume your dog can handle.
Pheromone collars and Thundershirts have been shown to have some efficacy in certain dogs. In my experience, a noticable difference can be seen in about half of the dogs that try these methods. If you have a dog that is anxious during certain situations you may find that these can provide your dog with some relief.
Lastly, please keep your dogs as far away from fireworks as you can. The safest place for your pet is at home, not in a crowded, unfamiliar, and noisy place. The combination of too many people and loud fireworks will make your beloved pet freak out and desperately seek shelter. Locking a pet in the car is also not an option as your pet may suffer heat stroke. Just as importantly, lit fireworks can pose a danger to curious pets, with the potential result of severe burns and/or trauma to the face and paws. But, even unused fireworks can be hazardous. Some fireworks contain toxic substances such as arsenic, potassium nitrate, and other heavy metals. (Also a friendly reminder that citronella-based repellents (oils, candles, insect coils, etc) are irritating toxins to pets, according to the ASPCA.
If your dog’s fear of fireworks or thunderstorms seems extreme or is not mitigated in any way by these strategies or other efforts, consider a professional consultation. Your veterinarian or a credentialed behaviorist can offer additional strategies for aiding a pet that is truly suffering.
Hope you and your pup have a safe, happy and gluttonous holiday!
Tell your dog I said hi!- Dominic