For folks in the US, this is one of the worst times of year for many dog owners. A lot of people have probably already heard fireworks, since we’re barely a week out from the 4th of July. So, what do you do if you have a dog with noise phobia? The answer, unfortunately, is not so simple, especially so close to the actual date. However, there are still ways you can prepare, and things you can work on for next year:
-Drugs are your friend. Make an appointment with your vet to talk about anxiolytics (anti-anxiety meds) and/or tranquilizers. Make that appointment NOW (or ideally, even earlier than this), not the day before. You want time to see how the drugs work for your dog. Is your dog too sedate? Does the opposite effect happen and the drugs actually cause excitement? Wouldn’t you like to know before the actual day? Plus, certain drugs take time to reach peak effect. Remember that a vet needs to physically see your animal in person to prescribe drugs, so you need to make time for an appointment.
-Consider a thunder shirt. Generally, thunder shirts will either work, or they won’t. If you haven’t tried one, it’s worth it to see if it will help your dog. Again, introduce the shirt BEFORE you need it, so you can properly desensitize your dog to it.
-Bust out the Adaptil. Adaptil (canine appeasing pheromone) plug ins or spray can be used to help a dog feel calm. It is NOT a replacement for drugs, or counter conditioning, but it can help.
-Set up a safe space for your dog in the most sound proof room in your house (bathroom, closet, basement, etc). Make it super comfy and safe. Put your dog’s favorite bed and toys in there. Feed them in there. Put an Adaptil infuser in there (or spray). That is where you will take your dog during the fireworks. You can also consider a sound-proof crate, IF your dog is comfortable being crated. Make sure you have the supplies you need in there beforehand so you don’t have to leave during the fireworks. Water, cleaning supplies (accidents can be common with noise phobia), food/treats, and any meds should be in the room with you.
-Set up music/white noise. There are calming dog specific CDs, but a television, music, or just random sounds will work too to drown out the fire works.
-Stay with your dog the entire time. Your dog will already be on edge, don’t make them more nervous by leaving. Bring a book, or watch a movie on your laptop, but stay there.
-Have high value treats on you. It is a myth that rewarding a dog that is afraid will make them more afraid. Think of it this way–if you are afraid of spiders, and someone hands you $100, do you become more afraid of spiders? No, you don’t. You can, however, start to change their association with the scary thing and help keep them distracted.
-Make sure all doors and windows are securely closed and that your dog’s ID is on and up to date. Escapes are very common this time of year.
-For next year, work on desensitization/counter conditioning. Start early. Start after this year’s fireworks are done. Talk to a dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist that will use appropriate, positive reinforcement based methods to help your dog become more comfortable with fireworks. Remember that this can be a very long process, and that some dogs may always have a level of fear. Positive punishment and flooding (forcing a dog into a scary situation until they “get over it”) are NOT appropriate for fear based behavior. You can make your dog’s fear much worse by using these methods.