While summertime’s thunderstorms and 4th of July fireworks can instill fear in dogs, our dogs can be trained to manage their reactions and feel calmer through all the noise and bright flashes. The loud noises can cause many dogs to panic, run away, become destructive, or even hurt themselves. Dogs can sense a storm’s approach by the rapidly falling barometric pressure, and so can begin to show signs of anxiety even before the storm can be heard. With regard to fireworks, a dog’s sense of hearing is acute—over 10 times more sensitive than humans’ so they can hear the sounds off in the distance.
With the 4th of July only a few days away, keep the following in mind to help your dog be safe and happy:
- If you are going to the fireworks, leave your dog at home. This is where he will be the safest and most comfortable.
- Never leave your dog in the car. A partially opened window does not supply sufficient fresh air for him to breathe, and it creates an opportunity for your pet to be stolen.
- If possible, stay with your pet during the majority of the fireworks. A dog often reacts more intensely to loud sounds and flashes of lights when you are not with him.
- Consider hiring a pet sitter to stay with your dog while you are away from home.
Here are some thought to help your dog minimize their fears of thunderstorms:
- Many of the same suggestions we discussed for the 4th of July are also relevant when it comes to thunderstorms. But there are some additional considerations.
- Always keep proper identification securely fastened to your dog’s collar in case your dog gets out. Be sure to keep it up to date.
- Give your dog a safe place to stay during storms. Create a quiet den-like area where your dog can feel secure. A crate or kennel can be a calming refuge.
- If your dog lives outside, cover his doghouse or dog run with a blanket to shield him from the bursts of lightning.
- Dogs can pick up fear or discomfort with storms from their owners. Let your dog stay close and try to distract him with activities like play or brushing. Do not try to reassure him in a sympathetic voice—this will sound like praise and may increase his nervousness and anxiety.
- Some dogs become destructive when frightened. A crate or confined area is always the best way to keep your dog safe and minimize any destructive behavior.
- During a storm, keep windows and curtains closed to reduce noise and bright flashes. Turn on a TV or radio playing soft music at normal volume to distract your dog and help him to relax.
- Keep your dog away from doors that lead outside. This will minimize the chance of your dog getting out should he look to escape.
- If your dog is very anxious, it may become incontinent. Be prepared and don’t react in a negative manner.
- Dogs that are fearful of thunderstorms may have to be reconditioned by creating an artificial storm using YouTube videos or storm sounds.
- In the most extreme cases, speak with your veterinarian about possible medication treatments to help your dog cope with his fear of storms.
Your dog’s phobia about the 4th of July and thunderstorms won’t get better on its own. Help him learn that “it’s just noise” and is nothing for him to worry about. When he learns to relax and remain calm, you can relax and not worry about your dog during these “fears of the season.”
Vicki and Richard Horowitz are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.