Tip 73 – Dog afraid of thunder, fireworks and loud noises
Many dogs become very distressed when they hear loud noises such as thunder. Fireworks, vacuum cleaner noise and other types of storms can also cause certain dogs to become extremely fearful. Common reactions include hiding, shaking and occasionally destructive behaviours like chewing through screen doors to escape to safe territory.
There are several things you can try to help calm your dog down depending on the severity of the problem. If you are anticipating a storm or fireworks a good extra long walk can help by tiring out your dog so that fatigue wins out over fear. Playing the radio or TV at a high volume can also mask the noise and relieve the fear. Providing your dog with a safe space of the DOG’S choosing usually where the noise level is lower, can often lessen the anxiety.
During an actual episode of anxiety, calming your dog down by over petting it and ‘babying’ IS NOT a good idea since this can actually reinforce the fearful behaviour. Punishing or crating an anxious dog is also bad thing to do since they cannot control this anxiety and may well destroy their crates or injure themselves.
A technique that has been very successful treating anxiety and phobias is called desensitization. The technique involves exposing the subject to a low level of what actually causes the anxiety while paired with something positive. Get a tape recorder and get your hands on sounds of a thunderstorm or fireworks or loud noises (perhaps the vacuum cleaner) that normally cause your dog to become afraid. Have your dog in a quiet room with you and start the tape off at a very low (barely audible) volume. Reassure your dog by petting it and saying “good dog” (or something similar) in a regular non babylike voice. Give your dog a couple of treats. Start off very slowly the first few times, perhaps just a couple of minutes of the low volume noise. GRADUALLY over a week or so make the volume louder until at the end of the exercise it is very loud. The goal is for the dog to associate these loud noises with calmness and treats thereby relieving the fearful behaviour. This technique works well for most dogs, but it must be done correctly or it can worsen your dog’s reaction. Seek advice from your vet when in doubt.
If none of these techniques work then perhaps a meeting with a behaviorist (ask your vet for a referral) can provide you with a specific plan for your dog. In terms of medication, there are herbal medications that can help and there are mild tranquilizers that can be prescribed by your veterinarian.