Cause of Fear in Dogs: Fireworks and Thunderstorms

Dogs can be afraid of many things but one of the most common fears we hear about is fireworks and thunderstorms.  There are some different theories about why dogs are afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms.  It may be due to the loud noise of the thunder — a form of noise phobia.  Noise phobia would also explain why dogs are afraid of fireworks.  Dogs can hear sounds above our human range and are said to detect sound about four times farther away than humans can, which probably explains why your dog often knows things before you do.  It’s possible that thunder or fireworks sounds different or louder to your dog and he can hear it before you’re aware of it.

Perhaps dogs are afraid of storms because of the electrical discharge in the atmosphere.  One set of researchers has theorized that dogs with thyroid problems are more prone to being afraid of storms.  Another theory suggests that dogs, which have been abused, may be more likely to be afraid.  Some people claim that the fear may be genetic or that the dog was not socialized adequately to our human ways of life.  No one seems to have pinned down the exact reason why some dogs are so afraid.

Whatever the case, if you have a dog that is afraid of fireworks and thunderstorms there are some things you can do to help.

  1. Many people use flower essences to calm their dogs if they know a storm is approaching or fireworks are planned, such as for Bonfire NightRescue remedy is one such flower essence but there are others made for calming dogs.  Check your local health store to see if they carry flower essences and talk to the owner about which flower essence might be best for your dog. Alternatively, Happy Tails Canine Spa, proudly carried by Dogs’ Den, makes a product called Sleepy Time Tonic, which can help, calm an anxious dog.
  2. Desensitisation helps some dogs.  If you suspect that your dog is afraid of the noise from storms or fireworks, you can make a CD or tape of the sound of thunder or fireworks and play it for your dog.  Start low and gradually increase the sound over time until it is at full volume.  Allow your dog to become used to the sounds under controlled circumstances.  This can help your dog learn to ignore thunder or fireworks during the actual events. If you would prefer to purchase a CD with these sounds already recorded, The Company of Animals offers a product called Clix Noises & Sounds CD, which can be purchased for about £8.99 at your local pet store.
  3. Drown out the sound of fireworks and thunderstorms with music or television that has a deep bass.  When a storm is approaching or fireworks are getting underway you can try to turn up your music or television so your dog can’t hear them.  This works in some cases.
  4. Encourage your dog to have a “safe, den” area of his own.  Some dogs are happier during fireworks and thunderstorms if they have a secure safe area.  This is usually a small place, such as a crate or even the bathtub or under the stairwell.  A quiet, dark place is usually best.  There is some speculation that a plastic crate or a porcelain tub also prevents static from the atmosphere during a storm from bothering some dogs.
  5. Some dogs may even be comforted if they are allowed up on the bed, under a blanket.
  6. Use a body wrap for your dog during a storm.  Many dogs are comforted by using a body wrap.  You can use a tube shirt pulled over your dog’s torso or you can buy an “anxiety wrap” specially made for this purpose.  In either case, the wrap reduces the static electricity that attaches to a dog’s coat during a storm, which seems to upset many dogs.
  7. A DAP Diffuser has been effective in reducing anxiety for many dogs during fireworks and thunderstorms.  A diffuser works by releasing calming, pleasing pheromones into the atmosphere, which make your dog, feel better and comforted.  Diffusers have been used with some success in animal shelters where dogs are often full of anxiety.
  8. Talk to your vet.  If none of these solutions work you may wish to talk to your veterinarian about a sedative for your dog to take during fireworks and thunderstorms.  There are some over-the-counter medications that may be safe to use, but it’s best to talk to your vet to get his opinion before giving your dog anything.

Remember, as with many other things, your dog takes his cues from you.  If you remain cheerful and calm during fireworks and thunderstorms it will help your dog enormously.  Try to show your dog there is nothing to be afraid of, if possible and ensure you don’t soothe him during moments of anxiety, as this will only reinforce his reason to be scared.  Try to keep to the same routine as much as possible too.  If you show your dog that you are afraid or anxious then he will only become more fearful.  If you fuss at your dog or get angry, it will make the problem much, much worse.  So, be sensitive to your dog’s problem but try to stay upbeat and ride out the fireworks and thunderstorms.  Believe it or not, some dogs actually enjoy fireworks displays.  And there are dogs, which go from being afraid of storms to virtually ignoring them, with enough help from their owners.  It takes time but it is possible!

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