Noise Fears & Phobias-How to help your dog get through the 4th of July!

Amy DeMuth, MS, BCBA, AAB

As the fireworks are quickly approaching (and in some places the celebrations have already started), it is important to remember that while we are celebrating, our dogs may not be. Taking the appropriate precautions to ensure safety is of utmost importance… keep dogs inside, harness and tags on, doors closed, gates locked. While we know what to do to keep them physically safe, how do we help them feel safe?

Medications:

For those with extreme fears and phobias of noises such as thunder and fireworks, medical intervention isn’t a bad way to go to help decrease the physical effects of fear and anxiety. Vets often prescribe benzodiazepines and trazadone to help in this scary time.

Natural substances:

Natural products such as Adaptil, Harmonease, L-theanine, alpha-casozepine, Heavenly Hound bars, and Solliquin may also prove beneficial but should be discussed with your veterinarian for approval and correct dosage.

Behavioral:

I am not a veterinarian, but I am an animal behaviorist, so this is where I can help with some tips and tricks to help our pups by manipulating their environment. Our dogs will let us know when they are stressed. In most cases it is very apparent… shaking, hiding, pacing, ears up and back, drooling, tail tucked, wide eyes, etc. When we see those responses, our first instinct is to scoop up our dogs and engage in what I like to call “forced cuddles” while they try their hardest to now escape not only the sounds that are scary but our confinement that isn’t allowing for them to flee, therefore, doubling their stress and anxiety. Although it’s hard to fight the mama bear instinct to stop the anxiety with love, we can show them we care and are there for them in other ways:

Protect from overwhelming exposure to fear-evoking noises:

· Find a room or area of the home where the stimuli (both sound and sight) can be reduced. A dog’s natural response is to escape and avoid so they will want to retreat to somewhere where they cannot hear or see what they are afraid of. If there is a spot in the house they typically go to when frightened, work with that.

· Set up the environment to be comforting.

o Move their crate or bed to that area

o Close the blinds/curtains

o Cover the crate with a blanket or cardboard to help drown out the light and help create a sound barrier. Thunder Huts are also another option (be sure to not over enclose the dog… they need air!)

o Turn on the TV, white noise machine, radio, fan etc. Nothing overwhelmingly loud but enough to muffle the background noises that you cannot control

o Add in some favorite toys, chews, Kong’s full of peanut butter, lick mats, etc. to help distract away from what is going on around them

o A Thunder Shirt or pressure wrap can be a continuous hug as well, providing gentle but comforting pressure

o Sit with them without smothering them

Things to Remember on the Human Side:

This is a natural response for dogs to be afraid of things out of their control. When thunderstorms hit, the air changes, the barometric pressure changes, things smell different, etc. When fireworks are set off there are louder than normal sounds, sights that are unusual and alarming smells in the air. The number one thing to remember is this is not something that should be punished. Think about when you are stressed, and someone tells you to calm down…

Positively reinforce signs of natural calming… treats and toys can be used to reinforce de-escalation and self-regulation to continue that positive emotional state.

If these behavioral responses to noises start to increase over time and transfer to other stimuli, it may be time to reach out for help to target desensitization and counterconditioning.

I am always happy to offer suggestions and help in any way that I can. Feel free to reach out to me at amyd@tribeagles.org

We rescue beagles in the Triangle area of North Carolina, what is your Superpower?