I am a certified professional dog trainer and a certified canine behavior consultant. Dog owners often call me about their precious pups showing fear and anxiety during thunderstorms and fireworks. There are things we can do to lessen the anxiety our dogs are feeling. We need to work on these issues before the scary events that cause the anxiety and fear start. We do not want to wait to start working on fear of fireworks on the Fourth of July.
How can I tell if my dog is anxious during storms/fireworks?
Signs of anxiety in your dog include yawning, licking, pacing, panting, whining, shaking and more. When your dog is exhibiting these behaviors, they are communicating to you, “Hey, I’m afraid. Please help me.” Listen to what your dog is saying and do everything you can to help them feel more comfortable.
Why does my dog get anxious during storms/fireworks?
Dogs' hearing is much more sensitive than humans'. They can hear sound from four times the distance that we can. Because of this, the sound of thunder, fireworks or any other loud noise is amplified to a dog. Some studies indicate the barometric pressure change in the atmosphere during storms may cause discomfort to a dog’s sensitive ears, and may actually cause the dog pain. Studies also suggest the smell in the air changes when a storm approaches. This is why our dogs sometimes know it's going to storm before we do.
Fireworks safety: A happy and safe Fourth
What can we do to help our dogs when they are afraid?
When we are dealing with anxiety, we often need to use various methods and layers to our approach in helping our dogs:
Step 1: Create a safe place. It is important to have a safe place you can go with your dog so that they can't see the flash of lightning or the fireworks. For instance, a closet or bathroom without windows. Put a familiar dog bed or blanket in that space so the dog feels more comfortable. Practice going to this space with your dog now, not just when the scary events are happening.
Step 2: Play similar sounds at lower volumes. Google thunderstorm or "fireworks" sounds and play these with the volume very low. Play this while your dog is eating or playing. Slowly increase the volume over time.
Step 3: Utilize your dog's strong sense of smell. Smell is a dog’s strongest sense. There is a DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) called Adaptil. It comes in a collar, a spray and a diffuser you plug into the wall. You can also try using lavender essential oil. Both of these things can help calm the dog. To apply, put a few drops of lavender oil on their muzzle. Doing this alone may not improve your dog's anxiety, but when using these scents along with the other tips, you should see less stress in your dog.
Step 4: Utilize your dog's sense of touch. Again, we want to take the focus off the ears and eyes, this time with touch. Use a thunder jacket for your dog. It's a snug-fitting jacket that can have a calming effect on your dog. Get your dog used to this and start putting it on slowly so that it's not causing any stress for your dog. Let the dog eat, play and sleep in this jacket.
Step 5: Play calming music. We want to try drowning out the sound of the fireworks or thunder with a more peaceful sound. There is calming music made for dogs called "Through A Dog's Ear." You can look it up on YouTube and play it for your dog while they are relaxing or sleeping. Get them used to this music so that when we combine all these steps during an actual event, they are used to it and associate it with relaxing.
Step 6: Seek behavioral support. If you need help implementing these steps or are continuing to see anxiety despite trying these recommendations, seek the help of a certified behavior consultant or a dog trainer who has experience and qualifications to work with these types of behaviors.
Step 7: Visit your vet. Sometimes dogs might not be able to stay under threshold even with doing all the above steps. If your dog's anxiety is really bad, visit your vet. Your veterinarian can prescribe them an anti-anxiety medication that can help them calm down during the scary event. Many owners don't like the idea of medicating their dogs, but it may be more humane than letting them suffer.
What not to do:
Do not ever take your dog to a fireworks display or leave them outside alone during fireworks or a thunderstorm. If possible, stay home with them and use the above strategies. The busiest day at animal shelters is July 5.
Jamie Gregory is a local canine behavior consultant and professional dog trainer.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Steps to lessen your dog's anxiety about fireworks, thunderstorms