I get many calls about fireworks around June and December, and if your dog has a noise phobia, it’s best to work on this throughout the year. However, if you find that your dog has recently become scared of loud noises, then your first port-of-call should be the vet, to rule out any medical issues that may make your dog’s hearing more sensitive.
Here are a few things you can do to help your dog if the fireworks start before you have the chance to work on the issue.
Be aware of the signs of stress: shaking, dilated pupils, ears back, tucked tail, salivating, panting, attention seeking, hiding, urinating, defecating, and running away.
Have a safe place: a place that your dog can go to, that allows them free access to come and go as they please. Never shut them in, as they will feel trapped. This could be a crate (with the door left open), or even behind the sofa… anywhere that your dog can feel safe; it should be covered over, but make sure that they are not able to destroy anything and unintentionally hurt themselves. The covers will limit the amount of noise and light, which will help your dog to settle. If there is lots of light coming through, then make the room as bright as possible, not dark. Likewise, If the noise is quite loud, run the washing machine, or put a film or music on, to try and mask some of the noise. Place some clothes that have been worn by the family into your dog’s safe place, as this will be a familiar smell to them, which will help to soothe them a little.
Use mental enrichment to occupy their minds: invest in some activities that may take your pup some time. Solving small problems has been proven to reduce stress. Even some training-sessions will help; go over basic-training, as this will be familiar to them. Throw a treat to your dog after every loud noise, and they will soon associate the noise with the treat, and become less fearful. You could make this into a game for you too! If they will not eat, try to cut out some more of the light and noise.
Don’t leave them alone: stay in the same room, so that your dog knows where you are, and if they come to you for a cuddle, give them a cuddle. Do stop if you think your dog is becoming more fearful or anxious. Stay calm; don’t use an overly excited voice, or too low and soothing. Both may make things worse; just speak normally.
Aromas can help: there are many products on the market that can help calm your dog’s noise anxiety. Spend some time finding the product that works best for your dog; Lavender and Chamomile have been proven to have a calming effect. Stay as natural as possible – many candles and plug-ins have volatile organic compounds and formaldehydes in them, which are super harmful for pets.
Thundershirts may help: or, if you don’t have one, you can even make your own body wrap! However, body wraps should not be left on your dog for prolonged periods.
Exercise your dog: (if they are physically able to) as this increases serotonin and helps your dog to relax.
Don’t make your pup go out to potty during the display; try and let them out (but go with them) as near to the start of the event as possible.
Don’t give up on the training: some dogs learn quickly, and some learn slowly. Don’t forget that you are essentially ‘rewiring’ your dog’s brain to think differently about a stimulus, so take your time.
Prescription drugs: if your dog has an extreme phobia that you’re already aware of, then talk to your vet about sedatives. Ideally, your dog will be sleepy and dozing throughout the display, but also do work on the issue long-term to help your dog overcome the fear.
As a long-term solution: desensitize to the noise, counter-condition to change the association.