Fear of fireworks, thunder, gunshots and other loud noises are quiet common in dogs and can cause a lot of stress. This post is intended to help you teach your dog how to better cope with noise phobia, and how you can manage the situation to decrease stress. Click on the bold words for links to more training posts!
Many dogs know how to get very excited very quickly, but few know how to really relax. If your dog is not able to get relaxed and calm in its every day life, it will be impossible for it to do so when faced with something stressful. The Place command is a bit like meditation for dogs and can help teach dogs how to chill inside the house.
2. Overcoming stress and fear
If your dog is scared of loud noises it may also be fearful of, or unsettled by, other things. Contact a dog trainer to put up a training plan to help your dog feel safe, relaxed, and confident. Helping your dog overcome all the small things that makes it stressed in its everyday life, makes it much easier for it to overcome traumatising events and phobias.
3. Desensitisation + Counter Conditioning
Get the Sound Proof Puppy Training app, a CD with firework or thunder sounds, or look up Youtube videos with these sounds. Play the noises first on a low volume inside your home. You want it to be loud enough for your dog to notice it, but so low that it does not make your dog stressed. With time, you can gradually increase the volume so that the dog becomes desensitized to the sound. While playing the sound you can do things that your dog enjoys, like getting a message, being fed, doing some fun trick training with treats, playing, or walking on the treadmill. This will help your dog to form a different, positive association with the thing that previously caused a fearful response in your dog. If your dog is good at marker training you can mark and reward your dog for noticing, but not having a negative reaction to, each sound. If you leave the sound on after you have finished the exercise, remember that you may need to turn the sound down. During counter conditioning the dog is often distracted by the reward, so when the reward is removed, the stressor may be too close or too strong, causing your dog to be over threshold.
Training a dog to overcome noise phobias can take a long time. If you know a thunder storm is coming in, or that there will be fireworks in the evening, managing your dog’s environment can help alleviate stress. Set the crate and the room up before the fireworks start rather than putting your dog in there when it is already stressed.
On the day, take your dog for an extra long walk well before the fireworks start. Draining your dog’s excess physical energy will make it easier for it to relax later on. Provide mental stimulation like nose work or problem solving games to help the dog's mind settle.
5. Create a Den
When dogs get frightened by loud noises they often try to escape or hide. Condition your dog to see the crate as a safe place. Being inside a small, confined space can give the dog a sensation of being in a den and provides a feeling a safety and calm. Put a squishy dog bed or duvet inside to make the space comfy and snug. Cover the crate with a blanket to darken it and provide safe "walls”. Never put a dog in a closed crate who has not previously been crate trained as this may only increase stress.
6. Light and Sound
In the room the crate is in, pull the curtains shut and keep the lights on. This will help keep blinking lights out, and blend them with the lights inside the house. Keep the radio or TV on at a loud volume. If you choose to play soothing music, this may help calm your dog, but it will not integrate the sharp sounds from outside with the sounds inside the house in the way an action movie would.
7. Social Support
Your dog may find comfort in being close to its family members. If you have several dogs, keep them in crates next to each other, and stay in the room with them. Try to stay relaxed and calm to have a positive emotional influence on your dog. If your dog gets stressed or frightened, try not to speak to it in an upset voice ("oh poor you" type of talk). It can be very difficult not to feel frustrated or annoyed if your dog is suffering. However, this will not help your dog to feel better about the situation, and can confirm to your dog that it is indeed something to be worried about. Try to take a deep breath and try to feel happy and relaxed. If you are dreading it, so will your dog.
8. Calming Aids
A Thunder Shirt, Anxiety Wrap or Storm Defender can help calm your dog by putting pressure on your dog’s body similar to deep pressure therapy or weighted vests for humans. Add a few drops of lavender oil or DAP/Adaptil spray to your dog’s bedding. You can also use herbal supplements on the day to help your dog cope better with the stressful event. You can add Chamomile tea to your dog’s water, give it Bach’s Rescue Remedy, or Da Fioretti Organics Calming Herbs.
If you use herbal supplements, give them to your dog beforehand to ensure that your dog has no adverse reaction to them. Give them to your dog at least an hour before the fireworks are expected to start to allow time for them to start working.
9. Stress Relief
If your dog is not too stressed to eat, you can give them things like a stuffed frozen Kong, an antler, or a knuckle bone. Chewing relieves stress in dogs and can distract them from the sound.
Finally, a reminder about safety. Every year dogs run away around New Years Eve. If your dog gets startled by a sudden noise it might try to flee. Keep your dog on a short leash attached to either a slip or martingale collar that your dog is not able to slip out of, should it get a fright and attempt to bolt. Keep in mind that people don't always restrict the firing to the evening, but often light up fireworks during the days surrounding the event. If your dog is scared of fireworks, do not let it off leash during this period.