With Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, there may be some kind of fireworks or loud celebrations happening near your home. Though it’s a happy and fun time, it could mean stress and anxiety for your four-legged companion. Do you have a pet that is sensitive to loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, or household situations like the vacuum cleaner/other loud house hold appliances, doors slamming shut, people raising their voice, the sound of the hair dryer…? Depending on your dog’s level of sensitivity, there may be a few ways you can help reduce the stress and anxiety that he/she is suffering during these events.
Managing your dog’s environment by limiting exposure to the noise or distracting or redirecting him/her can be helpful in resolving minor levels of stress and anxiety. Such as; hiding under furniture or in other dark secluded areas, shaking, pacing or unwillingness to lie down or stay in one place, drooling and/or panting, shedding, vocalising, uncontrollably urinating or defecating, or curling up into a ball and making himself/herself small, flatten ears, head and body held low. You should never punish your dog having a fearful response as this will only cause him/her to be more frightened.
It is always best to have your dog’s health checked by a vet, to rule out any medical condition that may be related to the behaviour. Then, the goal is to change the way your dog feels about the things he/she is afraid of and have them experience a pleasant outcome (food treat, verbal praise, playing with a favourite toy or anything they may see as a reward), whenever they encounter the frightening noise.
Helping your dog through a mild fear episode can be more successful if you plan ahead. Here are some ways in which may help in the lead up to expected loud noises (like scheduled fireworks or forecasted thunderstorm).
- Plan an active day for your pet with plenty of exercise and one on one time. This will help to create a tired and relaxed atmosphere.
- Create a safe place for your pet (they may have already chosen a location they prefer) with a soft bed and favourite toys.
- Use DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) plug in and sprays can help relax your dog.
- Ideas to help distract your dog during the actual event:
- Play a favourite game he/she enjoys - to take their mind off the scary noises and associate something good with the event.
- Food distractions (treats). Even if they does not seem interested, the yummy smell of the treat will help give a positive association with the event
- Soothe your dog with kind words and petting. Fear is an emotion and not a behaviour.
- Play music or have the television on loud (as long as your dog is not fearful of these sounds), to flood out the frightening noise.
If your dog’s fearful response is severe, like showing avoidance behaviours (running away, escaping), defensive aggression (growling, barking, lunging), destructive behaviours (often a result of escape attempts), or the above management strategies do not help, you may need to seek professional help from a trainer or behaviourist.