What can you do if your dog is afraid of loud noises? When fireworks go off, will the pooch simply hide under the bed or run for the hills? As the Fourth of July approaches, dog owners everywhere can’t help but feel a pang of anxiety.
James Ha, a psychologist in University of Washington and a specialist in animalbehavior has several suggestions, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Ha says there are three main ways to handle noise phobias: management, treatment and drugs.
Managing dog noise phobias
Management involves taking the dog out from the situation. Owners might put their pets in the basement with loud music on so they don’t hear the fireworks. Many kennels offer special Fourth of July programs, which dog owners can also take advantage of. They can take their dog to a kennel far with loud music on so they don’t hear the fireworks.
Ha says it’s important that your dog is already comfortable with the kennel if you choose the kennel-in-the-country option. Don’t just drop dogs off at a new kennel on the Fourth of July and expect them to be on happy. It should be a kennel you use regularly when you’re on vacation.
Treating dog noise phobias
Treatment options can include special wraps that apply gentle acupressure, or counterconditioning to replace an undesirable response to a stimulus (fear) with a positive one.
Being an associate professor with a side business as an animal behavior consultant, Ha along with two researchers from Tuffs University in Boston recently published a paper on the effectiveness of a product called Anxiety Wrap for calming dogs during thunderstorms.
“The Anxiety Wraps work for some dogs and they work for acute situations, or short-term situations,” Ha said of the research, which was funded by the company that makes Anxiety Wrap. “The distinction is, most dog bites and aggression is related to fear and anxiety — of children, of cars, of men — it’s a chronic thing. So the Anxiety Wrap is not going to work on those situations. It’s not a magic solution for all forms of anxiety.”
“It’s tedious, it’s time consuming, but it fixes the problem. This is the technique that actually makes the problem go away,” Ha said. However, Ha says that counterconditioning works every time to relieve dogs of anxiety. But it’s not exactly easy. In addition, there are also many similar products that all work essentially the same.
Counterconditioning involves presenting the scary stimulus but at a level that doesn’t entirely freak out your dog, then rewarding the dog for behaving well. In short, “Set off a lot of fireworks, then give your dog a lot of hot dogs,” he said.
Play a recording of fireworks not too loudly. Reward him with a spoonful of peanut butter, a piece of steak or liver, or his favorite treat if he gets anxious but doesn’t completely go bonkers. Ha suggests doing this two or three times a day. The dog will begin anxious after about three times. When he calms down, he will start looking around for the treat. Most dogs have been conditioned to accept the noise after about a week.
Anti-anxiety drugs for dogs
Having an anti-anxiety drug prescription from your veterinarian is the third solution. “They’re very effective, but just like humans, you have to find the right one, you have to find the right dose.” Ha said. He also said that such drugs work well in dogs for acute, one-time situations.
Drugs also help lower some dogs’ anxiety threshold enough to work on counterconditioning. Once the counterconditioning has worked, then you can take your dog off medication. Ha says he rarely sees a dog so anxious that it needs to be on meds for the rest of its life.
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