Memorial weekend and 4th of July coming up.. how fun... right? Well, I definitely love the warm weather, all the flowers, maybe some planting, and being outside.
However, these are also the weekends for those "dreaded" fireworks. I don't mean that I don't like fireworks...I love them, however, my dog freaks out whenever there are fireworks around so I really can't enjoy them if I am all stressed out about him being stressed out.
If you have a dog that experiences this behavior then you know what I am talking about. I wanted to understand what causes this behavior? Why does he go through all this agony?
So, I did some reading and I do have some answers for you and some great tips on how to keep dog calm during these times.
First, we need to call it what it is. It is a "Sound or Noise Phobia" experienced by up to 20% of all dogs. This phobia can be experienced by all types of sounds, not just thunderstorms and fireworks. Some dogs have a fear of anything loud, microwave beeping, rustling bags, car horns, etc. Some experience this so severely that pet parents often seek professional help.
This has to do with what is called "crossed signals". Fears of loud or unexpected noises are triggered by what’s called the orienting response, the brain’s mechanism for being aware. When we or our dogs hear certain sounds, the brain instantly processes them to determine whether they might signal danger.
“We have to be able to process sensory input to stay alive and function in our world,” says veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner, who teaches at Ohio State University Veterinary College and is the co-author of “Through a Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health & Behavior of Your Canine Companion.” Wagner says that sensitivity to sound is instinctive to all dogs, but dogs that tend to be anxious are more likely to develop noise phobias.
Sometimes fear of certain sounds can be linked to a specific event: a particularly bad storm, a smoke detector going off or a fireworks display. In other dogs, the fear progresses over time, so a dog who’s afraid of storms gets worse each storm season.
Thunderstorm phobia is a complex fear encompassing sound, changes in barometric pressure, ionization and light, and the presence of wind and rain — making it one of the most difficult noise phobias to manage. With thunderstorm season in full swing going on right now in Illinois and other midwest states and of course Memorial Weekend and Independence Day rapidly approaching, dog owners, like me and you, that are looking for answers to their pets’ fears can try a number of ways to desensitize and counter-condition dogs to sounds that frighten them: sound and music CDs, aromatherapy, tight wraps, and in severe cases, medication.
Wagner has studied the calming effects of music on dogs with noise phobias. In one study, she and her partner, psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leeds of San Francisco, found that when classical music was simplified to have less instrumentation and tones were lowered and the tempo was dropped, dogs relaxed.
“All of that was done to get the brain waves and heart rate to drop,” Wagner says. “Dogs that listened to it became substantially calmer and even fell asleep.”
Music appears to affect behavior because sound is made of waves. When sound waves travel through the hearing nerve to the cerebral cortex, they influence brain waves.
“When brain waves, heart rate and breathing slow, we become calmer, and I believe that’s what’s happening with the dogs as well when they listen to the psychoacoustically produced calming music.”
Now that we all know what we are talking about, here are some other things you can do and what you should not do to keep your dog calm.
The "To Do" List:
- Exercise your dog earlier in the day. If he is tired, he will not be so anxious. Take him on a long walk. This will make both of you feel good !
- If your dog is prone to panic, find a "safe place" for your dog inside your home. Some dogs prefer their crate, allowing them to snuggle in and feel confined and safe, cover it to mute sounds and darken the area. Close all doors to the bathroom where they could jump into the tub and possibly hurt themselves or get stuck behind the toilet.
- Thundershirt - I use this on my dog Sebastian all the time. It calms him down allowing him to relax. This item is also used for other types of anxiety as well, like separation anxiety. Personally, my dog wears it all summer long.
- Stay inside, close your windows and turn on the air conditioning, this keeps the fireworks at a mute level and when the air conditioning is on usually masks any fireworks sounds on top of the windows being closed. If you are concerned about him like me I usually stay home also.
- Play some music - music calms the savage soul. As mentioned above... music comes to us in waves to the brain so put on your favorite CD and hang out out with your dog (with the windows closed, of course)
- If worse comes to worse, contact your veterinarian, there are medications that your dog can take for these anxiety attacks.
- Do not take your dog to see the fireworks with you. Leave them at home. Most shelters and animal control facilities get over capacity due to dogs running away from you in fear. If they get away from you, they could be lost forever. PLEASE leave your dog at home.
- Do not give your dog an "over abundance" of love and attention, baby talk, or treats, etc. during fireworks and thunderstorms.. treat it naturally. If you change your behavior during this time and give him extra love, attention, treats etc., he will process that as "something is wrong". You will be training him to expect this every single time. Go about your business.. do the laundry, empty the dishwasher, etc., just do what you do. If you are calm and natural then he will think of it as only another day.