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A Noisy Summer-Thunderstorms and Fireworks

Many dogs have a fear or phobia of loud noises, especially fire works and thunderstorms. My nine-year-old shih tzu, Lotus, hates these noises with a passion. I know she hates them because my little shadow dog disappears into the laundry room in the basement and hides in the corner. Other people have told me their dogs whine and pace, drool, get in the bathtub, or crawl into their owners laps.

Why do the noises bother them so much? Some research has shown there is a genetic component, if either of your dog’s parents was scared of noises, it is more likely your dog will be as well. If there has been an association with something unpleasant (such as the dog injured herself at the same time as a thunderclap) that may cause the dog to associate bad things with noise. Some dogs are simply more fearful in general and more sensitive to noise. I have always thought that if you personally are scared of thunder and react, your dog can pick up on that fear.

Why is Lotus scared? I’m really not sure, she is not a fearful dog in general, her parents weren’t fearful, nothing bad has ever happened to this dog as far as I aware, and I’m not scared of thunder. So there are definitely other, unknown factors, causing this fear. Noise phobias and fears can become worse as your dog gets older as well.

If your dog is fearful of thunder, what should you do? If you have a young dog who has just started to show the behaviour, counterconditioning may help. Playing a recording of a thunderstorm at a very low level daily and rewarding calm behaviour may help to desensitise her. The volume of the recording can be very gradually increased, stopping if there is any sign of distress. Many such recordings can be found on YouTube. If the behaviour is long established, this type of training is less likely to help and may cause too much stress.

It would seem natural to want to comfort your panting, anxious dog but it is best to avoid petting her. This is actually seen as a reward to the dog for being scared and confirms to her that, yes, this is the appropriate behaviour, when it is not. It is also not advised to say such things as “it’s OK”. This again, is seen as a confirmation that things are VERY SCARY out there.  Well then, what should you do? If your dog goes off and hides in a dark place, like my dog, leave her there-it is likely a place where she can’t see the scary flashes of light and the noises are muffled. If you can refrain from petting her, you can put an arm on her for gentle, reassuring pressure, or just sit quietly with her in the room. You can play calm music to help muffle the noise, and draw any curtains. Avoid kennelling her unless she is looks upon her kennel as a safe place.

Some dogs respond well to Thundershirts (https://www.thundershirt.com/ ), a tight type of shirt that applies steady pressure to the chest. Adaptil (https://www.adaptil.com/ca_en ) pheromone spray can help as well. Other dogs will need stronger medication available from your vet that will help with anxiety. The drawback of this medication is that it takes a half hour or so to start working, so it helps if you know a storm is coming.

What do I do for poor Lotus? If I know a storm is coming, or it’s a big firework night, like Canada Day, I give her anti-anxiety medication and let her go downstairs to the laundry room to wait it out. The unexpected backyard fireworks are harder to deal with, but usually mercifully short, and for these, although it’s too late to give her medication, I make sure the curtains are closed and I turn up the TV to drown them out.

Try these tips with your dog to enjoy the summer, and dial down the fear!

 

Written by Dr. Celeste Forgeron

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