Written by Lisa Michalik, RVT
Intense anxiety, frantic pacing, extreme salivation, hiding in sometimes unusual places, whining, barking, vomiting…there’s even been cases of frenzied dogs jumping through glass windows in an attempt to get away! Does this resemble your dog when he’s exposed to loud/sudden noises such as fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, car backfiring etc?
No one really knows why some dogs get so scared by loud noises. It could be due to a traumatic event during the imprint phase of puppyhood (first 3 months) Any trauma or negative experience during this learning phase can become imprinted on the dog and stay with him/her for a lifetime. Some believe that genetics may also play a role too. Herding breeds, such as the German Shepherd, Border Collie, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi to name a few, seem more prone and therefore may be a little more anxious during storms or around loud noises.
Don’t despair! There are some things you can do to try to keep your dog calm.
- NEVER PUNISH, reprimand, get angry or lose patience with your dog for being afraid. This will only make him not only more fearful but fearful of YOU and he will quickly learn to distrust you.
- DO NOT CODDLE, stroke, or hug your dog when he’s in a state of anxiety. Your dog does not understand your words he simply understands your actions. By coddling him you are telling him it’s OK to be anxious. You are reinforcing this negative behaviour. It’s ok to give a soft pat and calmly say “it’s ok” but stop there and do not repeat this over and over. He DOES need reassurance that it IS ok and needs to feel your calmness.
- DISTRACTION: Learn what motivates your dog. If he’s food motivated try distraction with treats. If he’s toy motivated try rolling a ball around or playing fetch. If obedience training is his key to happiness distract him with some training lessons. If the dog is already in a high state of anxiety this doesn’t always work. The key is to begin the distraction technique BEFORE he hits his anxious peak.
- THUNDERSHIRTS: These are relatively inexpensive to buy and many people swear by them. The thundershirt is equivalent to swaddling a baby. The vest applies pressure to the dogs’ sides which is supposed to be comforting.
- GIVE HIM A SAFE HAVEN: It’s ok to allow him to go to his safe place. If his *go to* place is in the basement then allow him to go there. It’s where he feels safe. Make that place accessible and as comfortable as possible. Try to encourage him to go to a room that perhaps has no windows and is a little sound-proof. If he prefers his crate, it’s advised that you do NOT lock him inside. There have been many instances of dogs injuring themselves in a frantic attempt to get out of their crates in a moment of panic.
- BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION/DESENSITIZATION: Enlist the help of a qualified dog trainer/animal behaviourist to guide you along with this. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. Some noises are easier to desensitize your dog to than others. If not done correctly (flooding) it can create devastating results. If done correctly you stand a better chance of freeing your dog from this emotional upset for ever..
- MEDICATION: This should be used as a last resort when all other options have failed. Sometimes medication may need to be used in conjunction with the above options. Consult with your Veterinarian.
It is really important that YOU stay calm yourself. Our dogs often feed off of our own emotions. If YOU are anxious during a thunderstorm he likely will be too. If this is the case try separating yourself from your dog (perhaps ask a friend or family member to stay with the dog) while you work on your own calming techniques.