How to cope with the rumbles & bangs!
Fireworks (noise phobia)
It’s that time of year again. Anytime now fireworks are going to start randomly going off. There also may be some autumn storms and thunder to contend with.
So before the bangs arrive, try getting your dog used to going into party mode. We spend our time during firework season finding ways to keep the house calm and quiet. We choose some nice classical music and maybe even light some candles. However it’s frustrating when the loud bangs invade the safe bubble we have tried to create.
Instead of soft gentle music choose something with a base, have fun and even dance if you want to. Don’t wait until the fireworks begin to teach your dog to party. We do not want them to associate your small play parties with fear, we want them to be focused on doing something they love when the fireworks arrive. Maybe play some reggae or your favourite dance music as when the time comes this will blend with outside bangs rather than try to mask them.
Sarah Fisher’s free play will definitely help with this party project. Play some games, get some chicken. Put some kibble in a snuffle mat, use your amazon boxes and wrap peas and treats in the thick brown tissue. Get some things that smell interesting and lay them out. Let your dog or dogs choose what they want to sniff. Play the base music while they sniff and explore. In your first session you can play it quite low, gradually increasing the volume with each session.
You don’t need it too loud, blend the sounds. Your dog has very sensitive hearing, hence why they are scared of fireworks and thunder, in turn it may cause them to suffer sensory overload and become anxious.
With the best will in the world you may not avoid that one bang that takes you by surprise when on a walk or out in the garden. Drop your energy and act happy about the bang, for example even saying oh wow, pretty! out loud will help give the right energy message, followed by your safe word to give distance from the loud threat (they don’t know that the bang isn’t nearby or following but they do know their safe word)
Thunder shirts or body wraps may also help them to feel more secure.
In Sarah Logan Wilson’s article in the Canine Journal she highlights a study published in the Journal of American Animal Hospital Association in July 2001 which describes a relationship between certain breeds of dog and the presence of storm phobias.
Interestingly, most of the dog breeds in the study described as having a predisposition to storm phobias were working or sporting breeds, such as German shepherds, collies, sighthounds and hounds.
The study’s authors believe that this predisposition to a thunder phobia directly results from breeding for specific characteristics in these dogs. As dogs bred to react quickly to stimuli, they not only do so in working situations, but they also do so in the presence of other strong stimuli as well. These trained breeds respond to stimuli with a specific response.
However, when they are startled by strong stimuli such as thunder, there is no “go-to” response. We taught them that aggression is not acceptable. So what is a dog to do with this startling response if they’re also trained not to react with fear? This study suggests that they respond instead with anxiety.
A tube sock is another quick alternative, find a suitable sock that is not too tight but snug enough to cover the ears. Cut the toe off and place it over your dog's ears like a snood. This will help muffle the sounds. This is my own whippet Merlin, he literally shakes and trembles when it thunders, but with his ear sock he is calm, relaxed and able to sleep soundly wrapped in his blanket.
If your dog wants a cuddle and it calms them down, then give cuddles. It is a myth that reassurance will reinforce fear. So if you're into Strictly Come Dancing, wrap your dog, have a cuddle on the sofa and turn the volume up just enough to drown out bangs or rumbles.
Medication may help if your dog has an extreme phobia, in which instance I would recommend that you discuss the situation with your vet.
In conclusion, and as always advised, use your empathy and instincts, think about what your dog loves, food may not work if they are feeling really upset. Do whatever they need you to do to help them feel better. Merlin’s favourite thing is to go upstairs and sleep under a duvet with one of my children. This isn’t something he does regularly unless he feels insecure or anxious.