By Veronica Rigatti, Canine Behavior Specialist
You see a light flash and a big boom follows seconds later, and suddenly your dog is running for cover! A thunderstorm is rolling in and your dog is shaking with fear. The Fourth of July or other celebratory occasions featuring fireworks may be fun for some, but for many people with dogs they’ll often find themselves inside trying to settle their anxious dog instead of admiring the glittering sky. This is the reality for many families with dogs who have noise sensitivity.
A dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than our own and loud noises can cause them to become fearful and even develop an anxiety or phobia. These noises can hurt a dog’s sensitive ears and in most cases they don’t know where the noise is coming from or when it will strike next.
Whatever the noise may be, give your dog a safe place to go and hide if they choose to. That may be a closet, basement, bathroom or under the bed – somewhere with no windows where the sound may be slightly muffled. Sometimes products like a Thundershirt or Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) sprays may help, but not for all dogs. Calming music, such as “Through a Dog’s Ear,” may also be helpful to drown out the scary noise, too. Victoria Stilwell and “Through A Dog’s Ear” have released the Canine Noise Phobia Series, which can help your dog acclimate to these sounds.
As long as you remain calm, you can comfort your dog with slow and gentle pets, or just be present and relaxed in the space with them. You will not be reinforcing their fear by giving them attention, but rather your presence will show that you are there for your dog to help them through this scary time.
Helping your dog cope with a fear or phobia can be complex and may require the assistance of a professional, positive-based trainer. They will be able to help walk you through a training plan to assist in desensitizing your dog to these sounds. In doing so, it can help lessen their fear and reduce the stress they are experiencing during these noisy events. For extreme cases, medication may be needed but this should be discussed with your veterinarian first.
We never want our dogs to be anxious or scared, but while these behaviors may be innate that doesn’t mean we can’t help them cope with these feelings. By trying out some of these tips, you can help your dog (and yourself!) feel less stressed during a noisy summer.