Living with a noise phobic dog...
It’s that time of year again. The one where everyone gets excited about fireworks… apart from those of us that live with a noise phobic dog.
If you have a noise phobic dog, or have had one in the past you’ll know what I mean.
It’s like a military exercise in our house around this time of year, making sure the dogs have been fed, walked and settled before there’s any chance of a firework going off. Then medications given, Adaptil diffuser switched on, den/bunker made comfy.
This is carried out every night that we think fireworks might go off around the 5 November, Christmas and New Year. We hope that none go off near us at other times.
What is noise phobia?
The definition of a phobia is ‘an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.’
Dogs that are noise phobic are genuinely terrified, probably to an extent that most of us will never experience in our lifetimes. Their fear is real. Some of them will find a place to hide, some of them will want to run and escape from wherever they are. I have heard of dogs throwing themselves through glass patio doors in order to get away, or trying to dig their way out of a room with a concrete floor. These are extreme cases but all dogs, if not managed, have the potential to become that terrified.
Noise phobia doesn’t happen overnight, it develops over time. The first signs will be very subtle and often won’t be noticed by owners. I didn’t notice the early signs with my first dog. These can include; licking their lips, a furrowed brow, hypervigilance or pretending to be asleep. The more obvious signs are pacing, trembling, panting and not wanting to eat. Some dogs will pass urine and faeces inside the house and some will develop a fear of going out after dark, in anticipation of fireworks going off.
The good news is there’s a lot that can be done to help your dog, depending on how severe his/her phobia/anxiety is.
I’ve put together a list of tips to help you and your dog manage their phobia.
- On the evenings, you expect fireworks, ensure your dog has been walked and allowed out to toilet before the fireworks are likely to start – in other words much earlier than normal.
- Feed your dog a meal that is high in carbohydrates, such as pasta, two to three hours before you expect the fireworks to start. This is likely to make your dog sleepy and more likely to settle during the evening.
- Ensure that your dog is kept inside at all times whilst fireworks are being set off, and that all doors and windows are secure well before dark to prevent escape.
- Ensure sure your pet is microchipped. If they do manage to escape, frightened, confused animals can easily get lost and a microchip makes it much easier to reunite you.
- Don’t punish your dog for being scared. This only confirms that there is something to be afraid of.
- Drawing the curtains helps to block out the noise and flashes from outside.
- Playing music with a rhythmic bass beat can help to disguise the sound of fireworks, but this should only be used if your pet is used to music being played in the house. Classical music is usually the best choice, but playing white noise can also help – this can be found at simplynoise.com.
- Provide your dog with something to chew as this can help to lessen anxiety.
- If your dog is only mildly nervous, playing games to distract him from the fireworks may help. However, do not force him to play if he doesn’t want to.
- There is a lot evidence that shows that gentle constant pressure applied to the torso can have a calming effect on animals, like the effect of swaddling a baby. There are specially designed coats / t-shirts that are close fitting and can help relieve your dog’s anxiety. See our helpful links below.
- Make sure that you do not put on any radio or TV programs that are likely to contain firework noises as these are likely to upset your dog as much as the real thing.
- Use an Adaptil® collar to help to reduce your dog’s fear. This is a collar which releases the same pheromone as the Adaptil diffuser and will help to calm your dog. The collar should be worn always as your dog may be exposed to unexpected fireworks whilst away from home.
- In the past it has often been advised to ignore pets when they are showing signs of fear. However, we now know that it is best to interact with your pet as you usually would, but to remain calm and unconcerned. Do not tightly cuddle or restrain your dog, or try to encourage it to you if it has retreated to its den/bunker.
- Try not to go out while the fireworks are going off as your dog is likely to be more settled if he is not left on his own.
How to prepare a den or bunker for your dog
A lot of dogs will try to hide when they are scared, so it’s important to provide them with somewhere safe to retreat to during the firework season.
This should be a semi-enclosed area that your dog can easily escape from if he is worried, ideally in the centre of the house away from doors and windows – under stair cupboards or behind furniture can be ideal, or a covered crate can be used if your dog is used to one.
However, if there is a place that your dog already chooses to hide in then this is where you should set up the den. He must be allowed access to this area at all times during the fireworks season.
The den should be made as comfortable as possible, and should also contain some bedding such as blankets that your dog can hide under should he wish to. If possible this bedding should have your scent on it as this is likely to help comfort your dog – you can do this by placing it in the dirty washing basket for a few days before it needs to be used.
The den should be set up a few weeks before you think that the fireworks are likely to start (so now is a good time) so that your dog has time to get used to it. You can encourage him to use it by hiding food treats or toys there.
It’s important though not to force your dog into the den and if he decides to hide somewhere else, leave him there as this is where he feels safest.
You can further help to make this den a comforting place for your dog by using a plug-in Adaptil® diffuser at floor level as close to the den area as possible. This looks like a plug in air freshener and gives off an artificial version of a pheromone produced by bitches to calm their puppies. It is effective on dogs of all ages. This needs to be used for at least two weeks before you expect the fireworks to begin to allow it to start to take effect, and must be kept turned on at all times during the firework season.
Other ways to help
There are also medications that can be used for very phobic dogs. These don’t sedate your dog but reduce or stop their anxiety. Some of these medications are natural/herbal remedies which have been developed to reduce your dog’s stress or anxiety. There are some which are prescription medications that can be dispensed by our vets that can stop your dog being anxious. All of these remedies/medications are best used before your dog’s anxiety starts.
If you are in any doubt as to whether your dog is noise phobic please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Hillside Vets, so that we can have a chat with you and find the best solution to help you and your dog have a more calm and peaceful Bonfire Night.
Noise phobias do not go away. Your dog won’t grow out of them. Over time they get worse and what may have started with just a fear of Fireworks can develop into a fear of car doors slamming, a fear of rain because they think that thunder and lightening happens with all rain. Some dogs become so fearful that they can’t go for a walk. Other dogs will run away while out on a walk if they hear a gunshot.
Talk to us before your dog becomes this terrified of life – there’s a lot that can be done to help.
Helen Murphy, RVN
Look out for our follow-on post about caring for our small and furries during the fireworks season.
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