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How can I calm my dog during thunderstorms or fireworks?
To us, a thunderstorm or fireworks show may be something we enjoy seeing or being involved in. To our furry companions, a thunderstorm might sound like the end of the World. Let's talk about the root causes of why dogs get scared during these events, and ways we can help our four legged friends out.
Why does my dog get frightened in the first place?
Let's start with the why behind it. Most of the time, a dog will get frightened during a thunderstorm or fireworks show simply because they don't understand what is happening. Remember, one of a dog's primary instincts is to protect anyone in their pack and themselves. So, hearing what appears to be loud slams and booms would be a cause for concern, as your dog perceives this as a threat and reacts accordingly.
Fright for you is the same for your dog
You're laying in your bed, it's dark, late outside. The entire house is quiet and you're slowly starting to drift off to sleep. Suddenly, you hear what sounds like glass breaking downstairs in the kitchen. What do you do? Are you scared? Do you go and investigate or send your significant other to do the investigating? Do you hide? Well this situation is not really that different from what your dog experiences when they hear thunder/fireworks.
Your dog's personality is a factor
Some dogs don't get bothered and could care less about what's going on outside. Some dogs who are already prone to anxiety might have a more severe reaction or experience a higher state of anxiety during the event. (For instance, one of my dogs unless you're breaking into the house she doesn't get bothered over anything, the other two attempt to go under the couch.)
What can I and should I do during a thunderstorm to help my dog?
During a thunderstorm, some dogs may attempt to hide in bathtubs, under tables, under furniture, or other places that make them feel safe and secure. They may even try to sit in your lap or just be near you. It's usually okay to let them do this, as long as they can do so safely and not get hurt in the process. Dogs will react differently, so you will need to get to know your dog and see how bad their anxiety is during the situation before you take action.
Give your dog a safe place to go
For dogs that have a lower anxiety and seem bothered by the storm, it may just be business as usual for them. For instance, my largest dog doesn't usually get too excited over storms and fireworks. She will usually take a nap on the dog bed or on the couch. On the other hand, my middle dog gets very anxious and will generally try to sit on the couch directly beside me or lay near my feet if I'm in my office working. To her, this is a comfort and makes her feel safe. Lastly, our smallest dog usually just goes under the couch and isn't seen for a few hours at the time. It's important to keep yourself from trying to soothe your dog too much. If they detect strain or anxiety in your voice, it can worsen the behavior because they see that their owner is also in distress.
Use background or white noise
One suggestion that almost always helps my dogs to calm down is having some background noise such as the TV or the radio playing. In fact, my middle dog loves the song "Proud Mary" by Ike and Tina Turner, so I will play thaton repeat until the storm is over. It helps to drown out the noises of the storm raging outside.
Create distractions for your dog
Another is playing with your dog or encouraging them to play with toys to help distract them and keep their mind off the storm. My dogs have a couple of these hexagon shaped toys which they love to play with at all times, so having that distraction is a welcomed thing to them. Dogs are pack animals, and most of the time you are considered a part of their pac which means that they're going to take some of their cues from you. During a thunderstorm, you should try to remain calm and project an aura of calmness for your dog to associate with. It also may be a good idea to begin to associate playing with a special toy to thunderstorms so that your dog knows that everything is okay.
Buy your dog a thundershirt
You may also wish to try a thundershirt which have been known to help calm anxiety in dogs. These thundershirts wrap snugly around your dog's body in order to make them feel like they are being hugged. You should introduce it to your dog slowly so that they have time to get used to it and it doesn't cause extra anxiety.
Anti-anxiety medications for dogs
In extreme cases, where nothing else has worked, it may be time to consider medications to sedate your dog during a thunderstorm. This measure is a rather overboard alternative, and should only be used in situations where nothing else has helped. You should talk to your vet about the possibility of this type of medication or others to help your dog cope with their anxiety. While full sedation may not be required, there are medications to help with the anxiety and just generally calm your dog down. Your vet will have a better idea of the specific needs for your dog. If you do go the medication route, you should make sure to follow your vet's instructions carefully and monitor your dog closely for adverse effects.
Important Safety Considerations
During a thunderstorm or fireworks, it's important that you never try to force your dog to go outside during the event. For one, there is a possibility of them getting hurt from the event itself. But, more importantly, it could severely traumatize your dog and lead to them associating going outside with the thunder which would lead to having a hard time getting them to go outside and use the potty. Also, it could lead to your dog not trusting you or causing a rift in your relationship.
If you choose to use a device such as a thundershirt or medications prescribed from your vet, it's important to make sure you follow all instructions that are provided. This will help to prevent harm or extra anxiety coming from improper usage of these things.