Summer is a fun time for dogs and their people. Warm weather for swimming, playing fetch in the park and having fun outside. However, as summer continues, thunderstorms and fireworks also arrive, which can be stressful for some dogs.
The loud crash of thunder or the burst of fireworks can be overwhelming, even for humans. Since dogs have more sensitive ears than humans, these perches can create noise anxiety in puppies.
Maria Verbrugge DVM’03, a clinical instructor in primary care at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, says this anxiety exists “on a spectrum.” A mildly anxious dog may pace or pant, look for ways to get away, or become clingy with owners. More anxious dogs have more extreme responses. They will exhibit “attention-seeking behaviors,” says Verbrugge, such as scratching the ground, not sleeping, complaining and hurting themselves.
It is not known why these behaviors occur in some dogs and not in others. They can stem from a bad experience with a storm or fireworks, or be a trait in the dog’s personality. These behaviors can get worse over time as dogs begin to anticipate noise at the onset of thunderstorms or fireworks.
However, there are ways to mitigate these responses and prevent them from progressing. “You want to form a positive response” to storms or fireworks by playing games or offering treats during the event, Verbrugge says.
“Demonstrate that these loud noises do nothing and are not dangerous,” she adds. This is especially important for young dogs to avoid a negative association in the first place. “If you’re relaxed, they’re relaxed.”
If a dog has ever developed anxiety around fireworks and storms, Verbrugge advises you to “do what you can to minimize what he’s experiencing.” For example, placing the dog in a safe, sheltered room, such as a basement or windowless room, and playing background noise, such as a fan or TV, helps mask outside sounds. Being with your dog and distracting him with treats or a game will also help make him more comfortable.
However, being with your dog isn’t always an option, especially during holidays like the 4th of July. Many dog owners turn to various brands of anti-anxiety pet shirts — tight-fitting shirts, wraps, or jackets that apply gentle pressure to the body — although these don’t work for all dogs and scientific evidence of their effectiveness is limited.
If you can’t be with your dog during the fireworks, masking the noise will still be beneficial. Ultimately, if you know your dog is anxious around fireworks or has never seen them before, “get someone to watch them” or hire a pet sitter, Verbrugge advises. .
You can also talk to your vet about medication options if your dog has severe noise anxiety due to thunderstorms or fireworks.