Summer is here! And so too are thunderstorms and fireworks—which may cause fear and anxiety with your dog. Those booming fireworks and natural “light shows” may be fun for you to watch, but consider how they affect your four-legged friend.
The humidity builds and by late afternoon the sky darkens, and you can hear rumbling off in the distance. While some dogs may carry on “as usual,” others may hide, bark, or seek comfort from their owners. This year, many large community-based Canada Day and Fourth of July celebrations have been cancelled due to COVID-19, but smaller, private fireworks celebrations may still be in the works. Before you plan a backyard fireworks show, consider that the noise created by fireworks is similar to that created by thunderstorms when they roll through—if your dog fears thunderstorms, chances are he fears fireworks too.
Fear of loud noises is common in dogs and arises from their natural instinct to survive. When they face a threatening situation (strange sound, animal, or person, etc.), fear is nature’s way of protecting them from harm. The dog’s fear alerts him to potential danger and stimulates a “fight or flight” response to keep him safe by either approaching the danger or fleeing from it.
The problem is that some dogs have an excessive fear of thunderstorms or fireworks and develop a phobia. In the case of thunderstorms, these dogs not only react to the noise, but also to lightning, change in barometric pressure, windy conditions, and darkening sky that accompany the rolling and cracking sounds of thunder. When thunder-phobic dogs get really scared, they act out.
There are steps you can take to deal with thunderstorm (and fireworks) phobia.
- Accompany your dog to a soundproof room in your home, such as your basement or an interior room that doesn’t have windows. Set up your dog’s bed or crate for comfort.
- Play fetch or tug of war using your dog’s favorite toy.
- Put on the television, radio, or a fan to help block out the noise.
- Try filling a Kong with his favorite treats to keep him preoccupied.
- If your dog enjoys being in his crate, try covering it with blankets to help muffle the noise of the storm or fireworks. This will also prevent him from seeing the light show.
- Some dogs feel secure when placed in a weighted dog vest or anti-anxiety wrap – ask your veterinarian about these options.
- Be sure to follow the above steps when it’s NOT storming or prior to “fireworks season”. This will help your dog become familiar and comfortable with the room/routine, and will help prevent the association of the room to only storms/fireworks.
- Never set fireworks off near your dog – leave him inside if you plan to set off fireworks in your backyard and if your community is still planning large fireworks displays, leave your dog at home.
Start the summer off by preparing your dog for the inevitable storms and fireworks that are sure to be experienced by everyone this summer!