Have you ever wondered how your dog knows that someone is coming to the front door, minutes before you do?
Dogs have an acute sense of hearing. They are far more sensitive to sound than humans. When noise is particularly loud and random, as in the case of fireworks and thunder, it is little wonder that some dogs are fearful.
A survey carried out for the RSPCA found that just under half of the dogs were frightened of loud noises.
The study also showed that a larger proportion of the dogs that were frightened, were older dogs. Indicating that fear of loud noises might not get better, it could get worse. This could be due to the build-up of past, bad experiences. What was a fear, can become a phobia. Dogs can then become fearful of other ‘bangs’; at lower sound levels; and the associations to those ‘bangs’, for example the sound of rainfall; cloudy, dim light; flashes of light; and places where they heard it.
Interestingly, (according to the study) dogs born in the UK in the autumn to winter are less likely to react fearfully to sound, than those born in spring to summer. This is because the autumn/winter puppies may have already been exposed to the sound of fireworks before they became fearfully aware, therefore have no bad memories associated with the sound. They may even associate the sound with good things.
That’s not to say that all dogs born in the autumn to winter are going to be bomb proof. Some dogs are more prone to being fearful than others.
What can you do to help prevent your dog from being frightened of fireworks?
Prepare a place in your home where your dog feels safe. If your dog is used to a crate, put a blanket to cover it. If your dog has his own bed, put it in a place where it is less exposed. Positions away from windows and exit doors, furthest away from the noise outside are better. Make any changes days before fireworks are expected, so that your dog can get used to these changes.
Block out the noise and flashing lights from outside, as best you can, by closing the curtains and have the TV or radio on to mask the sound.
Purchasing pet calming aids can help. For example:
- Adaptil DAP (Dog-appeasing pheromone) collar worn for a couple of weeks, or a diffuser plugged in at all times for 14 days near your dog’s resting place, leading up to fireworks. The pheromone simulates that from a mother dog lactating which is found to be comforting.
- Pet Remedy calming sprays, plug-in diffusers or battery operated atomisers. Contain valerian essential oils.
- Chewable tablets for dogs containing botanical extracts.
At the sound of fireworks, do not show alarm or fuss your dog if he is alarmed. This can exacerbate it. It is better to behave happy and normal.
Be safe, not sorry
Do not take your dog to a firework display. Avoid taking him out for walks after dusk, when fireworks are more likely. If it is necessary to take him out to toilet, make sure he is on the lead and unable to bolt if suddenly scared.
Close exit routes and dog/cat flaps. If you need to open the front door at any time, make sure your dog cannot escape. It’s a good idea to have your dog wearing his collar and tag at home, should he escape. (By law, he should be wearing an id tag in public and also be micro-chipped.)
Make sure the water bowl is full. This might sound silly if you are trying to avoid taking him outside to toilet, but a stressed and panting dog can get thirsty.
By exercising your dog and feeding before dusk, can make him more relaxed.
What can you do if your dog shows fear of fireworks, thunder and other noises?
A dog’s fear of sounds can make him behave by trembling, barking, need to be close, or worse by vomiting, urinating & defecating, trying to hide or escape, scratch at doors and destroy furniture and walls.
In addition to the previously mentioned remedies, there are more products that may help. For example:
- A storm defender cape which is anti-static to protect from the pain associated with static electricity in storms,
- Anxiety wraps that are elasticised and ‘hug’ the dog at acupressure points to alleviate stress,
- Zylkene, a natural complementary food containing casein which is a protein in the milk, known to promote relaxation in newborns after breastfeeding.
The right solution depends on the extent of the fear or phobia and whether also it is a medical and/or behavioural issue. Consult your vet for advice.
For a free assessment, fill in Adaptil online questionnaire http://www.adaptil.com/uk/What-Causes-Stress-in-Dogs/Behaviourist-Fear-of-Fireworks-Assessment.
A sound de-sensitisation programme might be the answer in the long term. A free programme booklet and sound tracks are available on the Dogs Trust website https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets
To modify a fear of sound takes time and understanding. For professional help, seek the guidance of a behavioural consultant. A list of consultants in your area can be found on the Canine Behaviour & Training Society website http://www.tcbts.co.uk or from your vet.
Author: Katy Renny