Although there is not much we can do about sudden loud noises, like fireworks on New Year’s Eve or thunder during a thunderstorm, there are ways to prepare our dogs to cope in these situations. Unfortunately, some dogs will always struggle with loud noises, but you can make it easier for them, to a certain degree.
How to handle thunderstorms or fireworks
- Control the environment as much as you can. Provide safe spaces for your dog to retreat to – areas where external sounds such as thunder and fireworks would be muffled – and keep him indoors instead of in an outdoor kennel. We are not looking to confine the pup, but rather to create free access to hiding spaces. Padding the den with pillows is a useful way to muffle external sounds, while closed curtains block out flashes of lightning.
- Play a CD or leave the radio on to mask the external sounds. Run household appliances that your dog is familiar with, such as the washing machine.
- Use familiar and calming smells – there are several calming products on the market, such as calming collars, sprays and diffusers.
- Use distraction strategies, like giving your dog a food puzzle, safe chew or playing games with him during storms.
- Some storm-phobic dogs respond well to body pressure jackets. These are close-fitting garments known as thunder shirts, anxiety wraps or storm defenders. They give dogs a sense of comfort.
- Exercise your dog before an event you know is going to create a lot of noise, like fireworks on New Year’s Eve. A long, slow, ‘sniff’ walk would be more beneficial than a high-adrenaline ball game. Exercise increases serotonin in the brain, which decreases anxiety and plays a part in improving coping skills when stressed.
- In severe cases, consult your vet about medication to reduce the anxiety.
- Your demeanour will influence your dog. Remain calm and supportive. Don’t interact with him using a high-pitched, excited voice. Be conscious of being content and calm.
- Petting will either be comforting or make matters worse. Learn dog body language! When your dog realises that his language works, this will empower him and reduce anxiety.
- Be there for your pet if possible and don’t go out if you don’t really have to. Especially when there are prolonged events like fireworks - you may have to sacrifice your social plans on such days, like Dewali and New Year’s Day.