Firework displays and thunderstorms are often a source of anxiety for dogs and make them difficult to calm. Some may be reduced to a shivering wreck behind the couch. While others may take to incessant barking as they try to deal with the intense noise and unusual smells. Here are some tips to help you to prepare your hound for these events and then keep them calm during summer storms or while fireworks explode.
Preparation for peace
Doing preparatory work with your precious pooch can help them achieve a calmer state on the night so that you can enjoy fireworks lighting up the night sky. If your dog has exhibited any signs of distress at loud bangs, thunder or firecrackers in the past now is a good time to start desensitising and counter-conditioning them to loud noises. Here are some steps you can take in the:
1. Regular walks
Regular outings and walking with your dog helps to reduce the anxiety hormones and at the same time, increase the hormones that make them feel happy and calm. Especially those pups who are inclined to be more anxious in general. Walking your dog will help them to become accustomed to strange sights, sudden sounds and, unusual smells. As a result, desensitizing them to these factors. Aim to walk with your dog at least 3 – 4 times a week if their age and health permits.
2. Exposure to specific sounds
Play snippets of the sound of fireworks (or other loud noises) before offering your dog a reward. Start with the volume really low, and then offer the reward, e.g. a treat, playing with a ball, cuddles or their dinner. Set aside some time in your normal daily routine with your fur friend, ideally after you have walked them. Then, over time, slowly increase the volume and duration of the sounds so that your dog becomes more used to the noises. This, followed by the treat, means your pup now associates them with the positive outcome of the selected reward.
3. Moderate your behaviour
Constantly be aware of your state of mind and behaviour. Maintaining a calm demeanour and a steady, measured pace of movement will also help to signal to your dog that there is no cause for alarm in distressing situations. This is relevant whether you are out dog walking, exposing your pup to new situations and people or, during your daily routine at home. If you find your frustration or anxiety with your pooch’s behaviour increasing, then look at using some quick and easy breathing techniques. These will quickly return you to a calm and focused state to be able to handle the situation.
4. Calming therapy
If your dog experiences high levels of anxiety in storm and firework situations, you may also like to consider pheromone therapy to calm them. Dog mums release DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) to calm their pups while they are suckling. Speak to your Vet about whether the synthetic form of this pheromone (Adaptil®) is right for your dog. The product is available in a variety of dispensers. A spray, to use in the car. The option of a collar for when you are walking your dog. As well as a diffuser for use in your home. Plan ahead, as depending on which product you decide to use, it may take some weeks before you can see positive results.
5. Natural, herbal remedies or medication
In addition to using the previous strategies, you may feel that your dog needs additional help to manage their anxiety and may wish to consider natural remedies or even medication. Always consult your Vet about these options.
Please be aware that not all essential oils or natural products may be safe to use on your dog. Or, for that matter, around your dog. Also, it may only be safe to use some of these natural products for relatively short periods. As a result, you may want to do some additional planning to ensure you can get the most out of these therapies at the right time. Read more about the pros and cons in this article from the AKC or in this article from Dogs Naturally.
Likewise, you may also want to consider what prescription medication could support your dog. Always discuss the benefits and potential side effects with your vet. Whether you choose natural or prescription therapy, it is still best practice to combine their use with training and behavioural conditioning. This will enable you to achieve the best outcome and a calm and happy dog.
We have covered how you can prepare your dog to be calm during fireworks or a storm. Now let’s cover some points on what you can do just before and during these events.
A calm dog during firework displays
Ideally, you have made progress in desensitizing your dog and they are already calmer before any thunderstorms or fireworks. However, you still want to make sure that your precious pup will not be wailing in terror or barking loudly as lightning or firecrackers illuminate the night sky. Here are some steps you can take to make your dog more comfortable on the day and during these events:
1. Walking your dog
A good long walk before the celebrations begin is a great way to tire out and relax your dog. As mentioned earlier, walking burns off their anxiety hormones and elevates the calming hormones that provide feelings of happiness. If you don’t have a lot of time before the celebrations, try and provide your dog with a long walk earlier in the day. Then follow this up with another short work before the festivities begin.
2. Safety zone
Provide a safe place for your furry friend as far as possible from the source of loud noises and raucous people. Like a cosy bedroom with the windows and blinds closed. Or even a crate with comfortable bedding inside and draped with blankets or towels to dampen any external sounds. This is especially important for dogs who engage in destructive behaviour when anxious. Limit items in their surroundings that could cause them harm, and of course, add to your frustration if they were to be damaged. Make sure they have water to drink and the company of their favourite toy.
3. Dressed for success
There are specially designed dog coats that may reduce fear and anxiety in your dog. They work by applying a gentle and constant degree of pressure around your dog’s torso, just like a long, firm hug. You can buy these at pet stores or online, or mimic their action by improvising one from a suitable piece of cloth like a sheet. However, you do need to make sure that your dog is used to wearing a coat and put the jacket on before any anxiety sets in.
4. Mood music
Play music, especially the kind that your dog regularly hears in your home. This will help to counter any external sounds and provide a sense of the atmosphere that they are used to daily.
5. Lead by example
Maintain a calm and considered approach with your dog so that they can see you are not concerned with the surrounding noise. Both adults and children may get caught up in the joy and excitement of a firework display and their behaviour and high-pitched voices could generate more anxiety for your dog. Keep your fur baby away from this excitement and speak to your pup in low and measured tones. Also, give them the same pats and cuddles that you would on any other occasion. Don’t go over the top or make a fuss, just calm stroking, the same as you always do. Check on them, and once they have settled, try to minimize anything that will disturb them or elevate their anxiety again.
I trust that these points on how to calm your dog during thunderstorms and firework displays have been helpful. As an animal-lover and Veterinary Technologist, I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of dogs and their owners. You can find out more about myself and my dog walking and pet minding services in The Hills District, Sydney, on my about page. Wishing you and your dog an anxiety-free thunderstorm season and calm enjoyment of the firework displays.