When a dog fears fireworks, it can destroy your fun July 4th celebration, so it’s vital to learn how to calm thunder phobias and noise fear in pets. More cats and dogs–and even livestock like horses–become lost on this day than any other when pets panic, go through windows, break tethers and leap fences.
Even safely contained pets shiver, moan, and feel worse with each noisy boom. You may not see quivering scaredy cats when they dive under the bed, but the stress from noise phobia increases risk of hit-or-miss litter box behavior.
Ideally, pets can be counter-conditioned to the scary noises by exposing the fearful dog or cat to recorded sounds of fireworks played at a very low volume, and rewarding him for staying calm. Gradually, you increase the noise level, to help the pet “get used” to the noise and learn to tolerate it. Desensitization programs can take weeks and sometimes months to work, though. And for many of us, tonight will be the BOOM-ICITY deadline. So what can you do? And how do you know your pets are affected?
My mom’s Shelties used to act like furry jello as they quivered and dove for that dark safe spot under the bed. They’d squeeeeze between the sofa and the wall, or push faces into your armpits to hide.
But the Magical-Dawg could care less. Part of that, I think, has to do with the PUPPY-PARTEEEEE! WOW, WAS THAT LOUD, WHAT FUN! reactions I’d offer him each time the thunder boomed during his socialization months. Now, if a particularly loud thunder-clap startles me and I jump, he does look at me with eyebrows raised–ready to get wound up if I so much as “say” he should by my body language.
Karma is a bit different. The first loud thunderstorm we had, he RAN and then slowly ever-so-slowly crept out. And he watched what Magic did–nothing. And what I did–PARTEEEE! and treetz. Today he’s much less reactive.
Pets do read us. You have to be a really good actor around dogs (and cats) because they read our silent language with little effort. Do you speak dog? What do all those tail wags and woofs mean? Do you know what a doggy laugh sounds like? Different dogs “speak” in unique ways–how do your fur-kids tell you what they want?
An innovative product designed specifically to help dogs deal with fear—especially noise phobias—employs a natural pheromone that dogs recognize on an instinctive level. Pheromones are chemical substances made by the animal’s body that act as a form of communication that, when inhaled by your pet, talks directly to his brain.
The product Comfort Zone with D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) is an analogue of the pheromone mom-dogs produce to calm nursing puppies. It calms the fears of dogs of any age, from puppy to aging oldster. The veterinary version, Adaptil, is available from your vet while the Comfort Zone can be purchased from local pet product stores or via the Internet. Cats benefit from Comfort Zone with Feliway, an analogue of the cheek pheromone that tells cats their environment and territory is “safe.”
Both products come as plug-ins from pet products stores, but it won’t “drug” your dog or cat into a magic cure. It instead helps put a damper on fear long enough to “think” so that your behavior modification/training techniques can work. You’ll need to have these plugged in for several days in advance for it to offer your dog or cat the best benefits. They also come as a spray or impregnated collars for immediate use, and can be sprayed on bedding, for example
COVER THE NOISE
There are a number of things you can do. Cover up the “BOOM” or the thunder and rain sounds by playing music–harp music actually has a sedative effect (it may put YOU to sleep, too!). Turn the radio to static for white noise. At my house, we could pound the piano or play the cello or …SING and have a howl-along. It’s hard for a pet’s brain to do two things at once–be scared and have fun–so find something your pet loves that has some noise to it. Hey, isn’t a squeaker less obnoxious than hearing your baby-dog whimper and moan?
A number of products are available that are said to help out with fear issues. Thundershirt for dogs is one of the best known and most effective. I also have the Thundershirt for cats and it helps Seren-Kitty enormously during fearful events–like vet visits. Storm Defender Capes are another option, as well as Calming Caps. Some of these products will be available at your local pet products stores.
GIVE DOGS A JOB
Dogs can’t panic when using their brain for something else such as “work.” Drill him on obedience commands and special tricks, or ask him to play fetch and carry around a favorite toy. That engages his brain into productive activity rather than thinking about the scary noises. Giving him treats and positive rewards for remaining calm also reinforces the benefits of controlling his emotions. For instance, puzzle toys stuffed with fun treats the dog–or the cat–must manipulate to get at the goodies can go a long way toward keeping their mind off the fireworks.
Yep, at my house a treat or game of fetch or chase-the-feather goes a long way toward building confidence and rewarding good behavior.
Are your pets fearful of loud noises? What do they do? Have they ever damaged your house–or injured themselves or others during a panic attack? Is there a special way you handle the kitty or doggy panic attacks? Please share! Many more tips on dealing with fear in the books ComPETability (Dogs) as well as ComPETability (Cats).
Being scared kills the fun. Help your pets turn the fearful whimpers and scaredy-cat hisses into joyful purrs and wags, so your whole family (furry and otherwise) enjoy the 4th of July howliday. And have your fur-kids tell thunderstorms to “hiss off!”
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