We've all seen a dog take off running to a specific spot when they hear a noise that frightens them. They may run under a couch, a bed, a coffee table, or into a closet. The dog chooses this spot because he feels some sense of security there. When the loud fireworks are going off, we can help our dogs feel safe by encouraging them to go to their favorite hiding spot. Provide extra comforts there by providing your dog with treat filled puzzle toys, safe chews, and a blanket with your scent on it. You can help your dog make his safe spot feel even more secure by covering it with a blanket. For example, if your dog hides under the coffee table or your office desk, drape a blanket over it keeping just a small opening for your dog to peer out of. Some dogs prefer to see everything going on around them while others prefer everything to be dark and closed. Experiment to see what makes your dog feel the most at ease. Alternatively, you can also provide a crate if your dog hasn't found his own safe spot.
Before the fireworks begin, help your dog get out any pent up energy as excess energy will only increase your dog's anxiety. It's best not to go for a walk if there's even the slightest chance a firework might be set off close enough for your dog to hear while he's on the walk. Instead, play a game of fetch or tug in the backyard, or have your dog run through a homemade obstacle course. Be sure to give your dog plenty of time to unwind and relax before the fireworks begin. Plan your dog's exercise so you'll have about an hour for your dog to relax before the fireworks start.
Give your dog plenty of things to occupy his mind so he's not focused on the loud noises outside. Stuffed Kongs and other food puzzle toys are great for fearful dogs because the action of seeking food greatly reduces a dog's fear. Safe chews or frozen "pupsicles" are another great way to relieve your dog's stress as the action of chewing and licking releases endorphins and relieves "mouth stress".
Drown out the noise of the fireworks by playing relaxing music rather loudly where ever your dog is in your home. Close the windows, turn on fans and the A/C. You can also turn the television on to something you frequently watch as the familiarity might also calm your dog as it also helps drown out the noise.
Contrary to popular belief, you won't reinforce your dog's fears by comforting him. If your dog feels more comfortable being by your side or being held, by all means do so! Calmly and slowly stroking your dog from head to tail and giving your dog small, circular rubs on his chest will also help decrease anxiety. Follow the path on the sides of your dog's nose where the tear stains form and slowly stroke downwards a few times. This also helps decrease anxiety in some dogs. Some dogs feel more comfortable with a "Thundershirt" or even an Ace bandage or tight shirt wrapped around their body. Every dog is different, so try these different options and see which seems to comfort your particular dog.
No matter how cautious you are, a frightened dog can slip outside in the blink of an eye. Be sure your dog is wearing proper identification just in-case. If your dog doesn't have identification tags, you can write your phone number with a permanent marker on a cloth collar. Before you open the front door or the side gate, be sure your dog is properly secured in a crate or bedroom. Even dogs who normally never dart out an open door can run away if frightened. Likewise, frightened dogs have been known to jump through the screen of an open window so it's best to keep the windows tightly closed.
If you feel your dog will injure himself trying to escape when the fireworks begin, you may wish to secure him in a crate. If he tries to escape from there you may choose to board your dog at a local vet's office for his safety, and to get him away from noisy neighborhoods.
When all else fails, sometimes the kindest thing we can do for our fearful dog is ask the vet for medication. If your dog simply can't cope with his fears despite our best efforts to reassure him, the best thing we can do is intervene. Not all vets are equal in their understanding of medications used for behavior issues, so be your dog's advocate and do your research before talking with your vet. Here's what you should know:
Acepromazine and Chlorpromazine are drugs that are commonly prescribed for home use for fearful dogs as a sedative. They appear to produce a calm, relaxed dog but in fact, these drugs produce the opposite effect. Because these drugs are not anti-anxiety medication they do nothing to reduce the emotional disturbance the dog is experiencing. Instead, these drugs alter the dog's ability to physically react to their fears. In other words, the dog can't run and hide or react in a physically normal response to their fears and this is even more traumatizing - resulting in many dogs developing an even stronger fear response in the future. These drugs have been known to contribute to not only an increased noise sensitivity in the future, but also an increased startle response. These drugs commonly go by other names so ask your vet if the medication he prescribed your dog contains these drugs.
Because of what has recently been learned about these drugs, veterinary behaviorists recommend using Benzodiazapenes. These drugs include Diazepam also called Valium, and Alprazolam also called Xanax. These medications actually do have a calming effect as they work within the dog's central nervous system to actually reduce fear and anxiety. More and more veterinarians are educating themselves on these modern findings, but sadly not all veterinarians are up to date on this important information. It is our job as pet owners to be informed and advocate for our pet's best interests.
Hopefully these tips are helpful and will assist you and your dog in enjoying a fun and stress free weekend!