It is that time of year when explosions in the sky are commonplace. But just as predictable as these burgeoning fireworks are the terrified reactions of some dogs to them.
Veterinarian Bill Stork said one of the most common questions vets ask themselves is something like, “Can you give him something just to relax?” “
But the anti-anxiety medications that pet owners seek to help with these loud noise phobias won’t necessarily work, said Stork, owner of the Lake Mills veterinary clinic.
“We can make them a bit calm,” Stork said. “But as soon as the stimulus arrives, from the first clap of thunder … or fireworks, they tend to override (the medication).”
Some dogs are afraid of thunderstorms, but are fine with jackhammers and gunfire. Others agree with thunderstorms but are terrified of fireworks.
But Stork said there are some universal practices owners can adopt to help manage stressful events for their pets.
Before the noisy event
If you have a little time, you can try to prepare your dog for the noisy day, Stork said. The first step is to try to burn off as much physical and mental energy as possible in the days leading up to an event.
Engaging your dog is physical activity is important. Equally important is mental exercise, which can include a long walk to sniffle.
“I mean literally a dog on a leash walking around the neighborhood where there are all kinds of interesting smells,” Stork said.
Dogs and cats’ senses of smell are hundreds of times more sensitive than ours, he said.
“And all the details that they calculate as they walk around with their nose to the ground, nose in the air, engage their minds very well as we have made this recommendation to customers.”
But keep in mind that walking in the same neighborhood, on the same side of the street in the same direction and at the same time will end up aging for the dog.
“It would be like going into the Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday and reading the same newspaper for a month,” he said. “You’re going to run out of information pretty quickly.”
Other methods to try that will engage them mentally, especially if your dog eats fast, are food delivery devices such as slow feeders or grab mats. You can try a lick mat to distract your dog, or Kong toys stuffed with kibble and peanut butter. Freeze them to make them last longer.
“Anything that makes them work harder and think harder,” he said.
If you have more patience and time, you can try a method called counter-conditioning, which involves making positive associations with something the dog is afraid of.
“You’re initiating something that’s intensely positive, whether it’s his favorite toys, something to eat, something to chew on for (the dog),” Stork said.
You can also slowly condition a dog to get used to loud noises, such as hunters who start training their hunting dogs by accustoming them to the sound of a pellet gun and switching to a louder pistol at a closer distance. .
During a noisy event
When the fireworks display or other loud event begins, keep in mind that your response is contagious, Stork said.
“Your reaction will be their reaction,” he said.
While it may be natural to comfort and try to calm a dog that is pacing and panting, the best thing you can do is to remain as calm and discreet as possible.
There may be a specific area of your house where the dog is hiding, whether it is behind the toilet, on a sofa downstairs, or in the tub.
“If they don’t pace, if they don’t panic… if they don’t shake, that’s fine,” Stork said. “It’s their way of calming things down.”
If you can provide a comfortable space for your dog where it is dark, for example in the basement, and as far away from loud noises and blinking as possible, that will help, Stork said.
There are anti-anxiety medications that can be used near the event, Stork said, but it will always be difficult to keep them calm during these types of events.