Fireworks, thunder and other out-of-nowhere sounds often leave dogs frightened and wanting to escape to a safer place. Many fear related issues can be successfully resolved. If left untreated though, the issues will often get worse.
Many dogs try and deal with their fear by acting out in such ways as running away or destroying something. Escaping to get further away from the noise can result in danger for your dog if they are outside of the house– they could run into traffic or run into an area they are unfamiliar with and become lost. If your dog is in the house and trying to escape from the startling noises, they may go into a room and destroy furniture or other household items to try and lessen their sense of fear. Many dogs will try digging, barking, jumping, scratching, chewing or howling to try and make themselves feel better. Both escape and destructive behavior can be a problem for you and could also result in injury to your dog.
How can you help your dog overcome these fearful reactions?
- Create a safe place for your dog. When your dog hears a noise that frightens them, where do they run to in the house to feel safe? Can you create a cozy bed in this area? Are they able to gain access to this area at all times? Try feeding them meals and treats in this area to allow them to associate it with a place where “good things” happen. The “safe place” approach may not work with all dogs as some feel the need to continue moving, pacing and being active when scared.
- Distract your dog. If you notice your dog is just beginning to get anxious, encourage them to engage in an activity that will take their mind off things. Try enticing them with a ball or toy or practice tricks for treats. However, if the distraction technique is not working and you can see that fear and anxiety is building, stop the process of rewarding them or else they may begin to associate fearful behavior with treats and rewards.
- Modify their behavior. This approach can often be successful in reducing fearful responses and phobias in most dogs. It is also known as “counter-conditioning” or “desensitization” and teaches your dog to respond in non-fearful ways to sounds and other things that scare them. This technique is often done with a cd or recording with noises such as firecrackers, thunder, vacuums, etc. Start by playing games with your dog using toys or treats and playing the sounds at a low volume so as not to scare your dog right away. As your sessions continue, gradually increase the volume of the recording. Eventually your dog will associate the noises with happy toy and treat feelings and not a fearful response. Be careful with behavior modification though – if not performed correctly, the fearful reactions could become worse.
- Work with a professional. Consult with your veterinarian to see if medication is recommended to help reduce your dog’s anxiety level for short time periods. Work with a dog trainer to learn different training techniques for fear related issues.
What shouldn’t be done when your dog is having a reaction from fear and anxiety?
- Don’t feed treats to try and comfort them when they are already in a fearful state. This will only reinforce their fearful behavior in the end.
- Don’t just put your dog in a crate. If a crate is not their “safe place” then they will still be fearful and could end up injuring themselves attempting to escape from the crate.
- Don’t punish your dog for being afraid. It’s not fair to them and would only create even more fearful behavior in the end.
- Don’t try and force your dog to remain in a situation that frightens them. It will only make them more afraid and could even cause them to become aggressive in attempt to flee the situation.