Now that summer is in full swing, it’s not uncommon to get caught in a surprise rainstorm complete with thunder and lightning. It’s also pretty common to hear fireworks all season long in your neighborhood, even if there’s nothing in particular going on that’s cause for celebration. While these can be simply chalked up as “sounds of summertime,” they can pose a real problem for some pet owners, particularly dog owners whose pets get anxious around loud noises. If your dog gets aggressive, anxious, or just agitated when he or she hears loud noises, the summertime can be brutal.
Learning some calming techniques, however, can make things a lot more bearable.
While your first inclination when your dog gets anxious or scared during a thunderstorm may be to cuddle them or lay down near them to make them feel safer, this actually has the inverse effect: instead of calming their fears, it validates the fears. They assume that because you are acting like they need your company, that something they should be afraid of is happening. Instead, try not to pay any extra attention to the dog when it becomes nervous. Offer them a safe, enclosed, den-like area for them to retreat to, complete with a comfortable blanket or their bed and a favorite toy.
Diverting their nervousness and distracting them are two great tactics for getting your pet to calm down. If your dog is crate-trained, offering them their crate as a safe and comfortable place to go can be helpful as well.
As for fireworks, this can be a tougher issue. For one thing, while thunderstorms are at least somewhat predictable, fireworks are not always predictable (except for maybe on July 4th).
Some of the same techniques for dealing with thunderstorms apply here, as well. For instance, having a safe place for your pet to retreat to when the noise gets to be too much is helpful, even if it’s just neighborhood kids shooting off bottle rockets on the weekend and not large, professional fireworks displays.
Your dog knows that if they go to their safe quiet spot, they’ll be okay. If you want your dog to become acclimated to the loud noises, you can also try a less common tactic of playing a recording of fireworks sounds, then either giving your dog a treat, petting him, or playing, so that they start to associate the loud sounds with positive things rather than fear. This tends to take a while for the dog to understand, though, so try not to expect miracle results after only a week or two.
Remember that dogs can feed off of your energy; if you are being tense and acting afraid (or showing that you are startled) by loud noises related to fireworks, they’ll pick up on it and adjust their behavior accordingly.
Thundershirts are another way to help an anxious dog calm down. While they may not work for every pup, they can be helpful for some—they work in a similar way that swaddling an infant works, by applying gentle and constant pressure, and help with anxiety, fear, and overexcitement.
Keeping your dog calm may not be the easiest job in the summertime, but with a little extra TLC, your pooch can stay happy and safe inside with you.