A fear of loud noises such as fireworks or thunderstorms is called a “noise phobia” and it can be very troubling for many dogs and their owners at this unpredictable time of year. Left untreated, the problem can escalate causing quite severe distress for both the owner and the dog. Proper treatment of a noise phobia usually requires a consultation with your veterinarian (who may refer you to a behavior specialist), desensitization techniques and may include careful use of medications. This, however, requires time and advance planning. What can you do if you find yourself in the middle of a thunderstorm or fireworks session with a frantic pet? The following tips may be helpful:
- Secure your pet in a safe environment! A normally calm and well behaved pet may become so frantic that he or she will bolt from their home or owner – putting them at risk of becoming lost or worse.
- Try closing all the curtains or putting the pet in a room with no windows to minimize flashes of light.
- Close all doors and windows to muffle sound. If your pet is in their crate, you can try putting cardboard boxes or a heavy blanket over it to muffle sounds – make sure however to leave adequate ventilation as your pet will likely be panting and shaking!
- Keep your pet company.
- Stay calm and confident yourself – this will be very reassuring for your pet.
- Try to distract your pet with play, favorite toys etc.
- Play background music – not overly loud, but something with a beat to counteract the sounds of the thunder or fireworks
- Use a “thunder buddy” – if you have a friend or relative who has a dog that is unperturbed by thunder or fireworks AND your dog enjoys their company, it may help to distract your pet from the noises. Supervise however and separate if the other dog ends up adding to your dog’s distress (ie your dog may not be in the mood to play!)
After the storm passes or the fireworks finish, remember to consult your veterinarian about how to minimize or prevent such distress in your pet in the future.