After every thunderstorm or firework night I wait for the calls:
- Dogs wandering the streets far from home
- Dogs that have gone through windows
- Dogs with lacerations from escape attempts
What we don’t see nearly enough are the dogs that just suffer in silence, panting, trembling or hiding at home. Noise phobias are common in dogs, and there’s a lot your vet can do to help.
How To Calm Dogs With Noise Phobia
Successful treatment is a combination of good advice and good medicine.
Plan In Advance
If you have a very young puppy, it’s possible to prevent noise phobia by making a game out of thunder or fireworks. I always recommend this, but I know it’s too late for most dog owners.
For adult dogs, as soon as they start showing the earliest signs of discomfort, it’s time to act. Create a safe space in your house that your dog will like to be in. It’s best to not use the same spot they hide in unless it works very well.
You make it by knowing exactly where and how your dog will be happiest. It might take a few goes (and trips to the pet store!) to get right but the end result will be the most comforting refuge possible. For loud noises, it’s likely to work best against an internal wall and perhaps under a table but also near you.
Stay Calm (& Present)
Forget all the rubbish about not consoling your dog when they are scared in case you reward the fear. Just imagine someone saying that about a child! I doubt it’s even possible to reward fear.
Simply put, fear begets fear. That’s why noise phobias generally get worse with time. The more you can alleviate the suffering, the better future episodes are likely to be.
Be a calm and dependable ‘rock’ for your dog. Even if your dog’s distress makes you stressed too, maintain a confident manner so your dog feels reassured. Don’t be afraid to pat or cuddle them depending on what soothes them the best. However, some just need to hide away.
Make Them Safe
You just can’t be there every single time, so it’s also important to prepare for the worst.
- Fences will be tested to their utmost so maintain them well
- Windows glass needs a safety film: most modern houses have this
- Doors need to be solid or protected by a security door
- Microchip details need to be kept up to date
Distractions will work best in the milder or earlier stages of storm or firework anxiety. Once a dog gets worked up, food and toys are usually ignored. Loud music may help but is unlikely to drown out enough of the noise.
One trick that may still work is to practice commands. If your dog attended a training school, getting them to follow commands keeps them focused on you, not the noise.
The best attention-getter will vary from dog to dog. You might have a video your dog likes, or certain games. I don’t get much success with a Thundershirt®, but when I do I think it works as a sort of distraction as well.
There’s been a noticeable move away from training dogs to get used to noises on a CD. Part of the reason is that storms and fireworks may cause fear in other ways than just noise alone. The other is that no good stereo can reproduce the sounds of the real thing. The last reason is that it’s really, really hard.
The only way I can see this working is together with a behaviourist recommended by your vet. So this heading is really a plug for seeking help not just from vets, but also behaviour experts. They will have lots of good advice tailored to your situation.
Anxiety & Panic Medication
Lastly, most dogs will benefit from careful use of calming medications. Short-term drugs are used before a storm or firework night in dogs who are generally OK. Long-term drugs are used for dogs with more generalised anxiety, often together with a short-term agent.
Drugs we may use depending on the case include:
- Diazepam (short term/situational)
- Clonidine (short term/situational)
- Trazodone (short term/situational)
- Gabapentin (short term/situational)
- Imepitoin (short to medium term)
- Fluoxetine (long term)
Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP, is also widely used, and should help, even if it appears less effective. It can be purchased in a diffuser for indoor dogs, a collar for outside dogs, plus a spray that can be applied to a bandanna or bed.
We train owners to use medications in advance of the stimulus, aided by knowing the local festivities, or watching the weather closely. The weather radar is especially useful to have bookmarked on your phone.
That’s it. I wish there were more. The good news is this: most dogs who undergo tailored care will improve with time, not get worse.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.