Storms and even Fourth of July fireworks may transform even the fiercest dogs into terrified puppies. Even New Year's Eve fireworks, automobile backfiring, and gunshots during hunting season are all sources of dog anxiety that occur throughout the year.
Noise phobia affects as many as 20% of canines. Owners should anticipate occurrences and take efforts to comfort frightened dogs during fireworks displays. Unexpected storms, on the other hand, can be difficult to handle. Some quiver and moan, while others rip down window blinds, clash with screen doors, or break through windows. It's critical to puppy-proof your home to prevent injury to the terrified puppy, and a sturdy fence should resist even a panic episode.
Solving Thunder and Fireworks Fears
Puppies should be counter-conditioned to terrifying noises by exposing them to recorded sounds of the unpleasant noise played at a very low intensity and rewarding them for remaining quiet. Increase the noise volume gradually to let the puppy "get acclimated" to it.
However, desensitization regimens might take weeks, if not months, to work. Puppies with storm phobias may also respond to the sound of rain. Even the sense of humidity or barometric pressure might cause behavioral issues, and you can't do much about it. Use these 11 ways to reduce your fear of loudness.
11 Tips for Soothing Scary Noises
- Fearful dogs may instinctively look for tight-fitting places where they can hide. They often squeeze between furniture and the wall or hide their eyes in your armpit. This applies a comfortable "hug" sensation that seems to calm a dog, so let your pup seek his own shelter.
- Avoid offering sympathy. Coddling your pup when he's fearful can reward the behavior. Instead of saying, "poor baby are you scared?" use a matter of fact tone, "wow, that was a loud noise and made me jump, too—but we aren't scared."
- Dress them up. Some puppies and older dogs too benefit from a wrap that goes around your dog's body with just enough pressure to give him the sense that he is safe and protected. These aids are sold under a variety of names and at a number of price points.
- Avoid giving your puppy a sedative, because it won't reduce his fear. He just won't be able to do anything about it, which can make his anxiety even worse. Your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication based on your individual pup's needs.
- Ear protection and earplugs that mask the sound may also help. Ask your vet to show you how to safely place anything in the dog's ears, though, so you don't damage the pup's hearing.
- Aromatherapy also helps soothe puppy fears. Some products are designed to soothe dogs prone to distress brought on by thunderstorms, fireworks, and other noisy or anxiety-producing situations.
- A natural supplement of melatonin, a substance similar to the chemical in your dog's brain that helps regulate sleep, may help. Melatonin helps reduce the panic attacks in noise-phobic dogs, but it won't sedate the pup. Melatonin lasts several hours and may be cumulative over several days so you can plan ahead for known scary events such as July Fourth. Melatonin can be found in health food stores, pharmacies, and some supermarkets. Always check with your veterinarian for the proper dosage for your size and breed of dog.
- Another option includes dog appeasing pheromone products. These products, available in plug-in sprays, and infused collars can be found at pet products stores. The pheromones help a dog put a damper on fear long enough to “think” so that your behavior modification/training techniques can work.
- Dogs can’t panic when using their brain for something else such as “work” so give your dog a job to do just before and during a thunderstorm. Drill him on obedience commands and special tricks, or ask him to play fetch and carry around a favorite toy. That engages his brain into productive activity rather than thinking about the scary noises.
- Giving him treats and positive rewards for remaining calm also reinforces the benefits of controlling his emotions. Each time the wind blows, or thunder booms, try saying, "Wow, what fun!" to jolly him along and show there's no reason to fear, and then give a treat.
- Turn a radio to static to create white noise that muffles scary noises. Certain types of music can prove calming, too, by “entraining” the dog’s heart, respiration, and brain waves to slow down and match the soothing rhythm. Harp music can be especially calming.