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Fireworks, Thunder, and Dogs - Oh My!

Thunderous noise is a terrifying thing to many dogs.



It's that time of the year! For many dogs, the sound of thunder or fireworks can be incredibly distressing, causing anxiety and fear. As pet guardians, it is our responsibility to create a safe and comforting environment for our furry friends during these challenging moments.


In this article, we will explore practical strategies from a trauma-informed mindset for both preparation and management.


Preparation

We're going to discuss what to do during a problem - but first we need to talk preparation. Try not to wait for the next occurrence to deal with it. Start preparing now and future incidents will be so much easier.


  1. Your Veterinarian: Like with any behavior issue with your dog it is a good idea to make your Vet aware that it is happening and listen to their advice or suggestions. Mental health is an important part of medical care and let's not forget that health issues like an undiagnosed source of pain can cause or exacerbate behavior problems. It may also be possible that your Vet thinks that medication could help your dog get through the distressing period with more comfort.

  2. Gradual desensitization: Gradual desensitization and counterconditioning are powerful techniques used to change your dog's emotional response to triggers such as thunder or fireworks. Create a desensitization plan by playing recorded sounds of thunder or fireworks at a very low volume while engaging your dog in activities they enjoy. Gradually increase the volume over time, always keeping your dog at a comfortable and relaxed state - if they show any distress we went too loud or advanced too quickly. Pair the sound exposure with positive reinforcement, such as treats or play, to create positive associations and reduce that fear over time.

  3. Seek professional guidance if needed: In some cases of thunder or fireworks fear it may be beneficial to seek the guidance of a professional dog trainer or behavior specialist who specializes in trauma-informed methods. They can help assess your dog's specific needs and provide personalized strategies to address their fear in a gentle and supportive manner.

  4. Setting up a comfortable and safe environment: Creating a secure space where your dog feels safe during thunderstorms or fireworks displays is essential. Designate a quiet area in your home, preferably an interior room, and make it cozy and inviting. Provide familiar bedding, toys, and perhaps an article of clothing with your scent to offer comfort. This designated space should be easily accessible to your dog, allowing them to retreat and feel secure when the fear triggers arise. If your dog already has a default spot to go to when scared make that the location if possible.


What to do While it's Happening

  1. Be there: While it may seem obvious one of the most important things you can do for your dog is to be present. If your dog is scared of thunderous noise outside it will be so much worse if they are alone in the house. Avoid leaving your dog home alone when you know they are going to be terrified.

  2. Harness the power of sound and music: Using sound and music can be a powerful tool in helping dogs relax during thunderstorms or fireworks. Play calming music or soothing nature sounds at a low volume to help drown out the startling noises outside. My personal experimentation has shown reggae works the best but your mileage may vary. Classical music or specially designed pet relaxation playlists can have a calming effect on your dog too. The rhythmic patterns can help distract and relax them, creating a more peaceful atmosphere.

  3. Provide comfort and reassurance: Contrary to popular belief, comforting your dog during fearful situations does not reinforce their fear. In fact, providing comfort and reassurance can help them feel supported and loved. Dogs seek the emotional connection and presence of their human companions during times of distress. Sit with your dog, speak in a calm and soothing tone, and gently stroke them if they enjoy physical touch. Your presence and reassurance will help them feel safer and more secure


Conclusion

Helping dogs overcome their fear of thunderstorms or fireworks requires patience, understanding, and a proactive mindset. By creating a comfortable and safe environment, using sound and music to relax them, offering comfort and reassurance, and employing positive reinforcement techniques, you can help your furry companion navigate their fear with greater ease.


Remember, each dog is unique, and progress may take time. With your unwavering support and love, your dog can learn to face these fear-inducing situations with more confidence and peace of mind.



Robin Wong is a certified dog trainer, a graduate of the prestigious Victoria Stilwell Academy, and a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (Knowledge Assessed). He founded Holy Sit to provide trauma-informed behavior work and positive dog training in London Ontario.

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