When we think of Independence Day, we think of barbeques with hamburgers and hot dogs, going to the beach and of course, fireworks. Your pets may like the idea of the backyard treats that they can snitch, but most of them are not fond of the loud booming sounds of the fireworks. Most pets are not seriously troubled by the sounds, just mildly anxious. Some may want to stick close to you for reassurance, some dogs may pant and some dogs (like mine) run around and bark their fool heads off every time the neighbors set off a bottle rocket. However, for some pets, particularly dogs, the anxiety is much greater and can become a phobia.
Phobias are fears that are inappropriate in magnitude. In other words, the dog’s reaction to a stimulus is huge compared to the magnitude of the stimulus itself. Particularly common are noise phobias- especially thunderstorms and fireworks. While many dogs may be anxious and pace, pant or get clingy, a dog with a phobia may frantically try to escape or hide. Storm-phobic dogs have been known to crash through windows, chew down doors and trap themselves behind furniture or toilets.
Dogs that exhibit moderate anxiety are often prescribed sedatives to be used for storms. The key to using the medication is that it must be given before the dog is anxious- if he is already nervous, they often will overcome the sedative. That means it needs to be given before the storm ever starts.
For some dogs that have a storm or other noise phobia, however, sedatives are not enough. These pets need to be managed to reduce the fear itself, because they can hurt themselves in their attempts to hide or escape. The biggest mistake most owners make when their pet becomes upset during a storm is to comfort them. For children, giving them reassurance is obviously helpful, but for a dog, they take that as positive reinforcement for the anxiety and it can actually get worse. Working with a trainer or behaviorist can help greatly with these dogs. One method commonly used is desensitization. Recordings of storms are played at a low volume that does not bother the dog and he is rewarded for not becoming anxious. Gradually, the volume is increased. This takes a lot of patience and perseverance but can be very successful.
If you are concerned that your pet has a fear problem, please come in so we can discuss the issue and recommend a course of treatment that will work best for you and your pet.