Many dogs experience fear as a result of loud, unexpected noises like fireworks and thunderstorms. This behavior expresses itself in a number of ways, including but not limited to: shaking/vibrating, pacing, panting, and in extreme cases, urination and defecation in the home by an otherwise perfectly house-trained dog.
Here are a few tips and tricks to make it easier for your dog, and you, to endure these difficult times.
1. Build a den.
Crate training your dog has countless benefits to you, the pet parent, who can rest easy that your dog has a safe, controlled space to be in when you're away. What you may not have known is that it's also extremely beneficial for your dog. Not only does it keep your dog out of trouble when you're not present to supervise, but it also provides the dog with a quiet, safe space that is his/hers to use alone. It is a place they can retreat to calm down, to rest, to have a nice chew on their favorite bone, or just to get a little me-time.
When it comes to fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud, percussive, repetitive and unexpected noises, crates provide a a perfect retreat for your frightened dog. If you have a wire crate, put a blanket over top to provide some darkness, which can further help to calm the dog. Make sure the floor of the crate is well cushioned with a blanket or a dog bed. To really make the crate just the best safe place to be, offer your dog a nicely stuffed kong to help pass the noisy hours.
As a note, some dogs who are extremely anxious when it comes to noises like fireworks and thunderstorms will not accept food during this time. Don't fret, and allow the dog to return to a calm state before reintroducing any food of any kind. The dog will eat when the source of the fear has passed.
Another way to help your dog get through a scary event like fireworks is to ensure that they've had a thorough amount of exercise on holidays and other times that you are aware there will be fireworks.
The same practice can apply to days when you know a thunderstorm is incoming. Exercising your dog will expend a great deal of the energy that would otherwise be directed towards the fear-producing stimulus (thunder, fireworks exploding).
The thundershirt was invented by a man named Phil Blizzard, whose own dog Dosi was extremely frightened by thunderstorms and fireworks.
It was inspired by a friend of his who mentioned the idea of swaddling a baby as a method of calming a newborn baby. During one particularly bad thunderstorm, they wrestled Dosi into a t-shirt and secured it with some packing tape to provide the same kind of mild pressure a baby would get from a swaddling blanket. Sure enough, Dosi calmed right down almost and passed the rest of the storm lying down. And so the thundershirt was born.
With an anxious rescue of our own, Ben and I know the importance of having methods by which to calm our dogs down when they're experiencing anxiety they (and we) cannot control the source of. The thundershirt is an elegant, humane way of helping your dog experience less fear-based anxiety.
4. Stay calm
If your dog's anxiety causes you to react with fear, frustration, or worry, know that your dog will pick up on that through your body language, making it that much harder for them to face their own anxiety and self-calm. No matter the reason for your dog's fear, always respond with patience, love, and compassion. Your dog will thank you for it.
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Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.