A Practical Guide for Dogs That Are Fearful of Thunderstorms And Fireworks

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Unless you have or have had a pet who gets scared during a thunderstorm or when fireworks are going off, you might be unaware that some companion animals exhibit behaviors that unmistakably communicate their fear when these things occur.  Such behaviors include:

  • Shaking
  • Pacing
  • Whining
  • Drooling excessively
  • Digging on the carpet or furniture
  • Barking constantly

During periods of high stress, animals can hurt themselves or damage property due to their fear.  So, if your dog exhibits signs of being afraid during storms or when persistent loud noises such as fireworks engulf your home, consider trying some of the following calming techniques to keep your dog safe and the things in your home intact:

  1. Reassure your dog that everything is okay. If your dog is engaged in negative behavior driven by his fear such as digging at your living room carpet, command him to sit or lie down to get him to stop before you begin to offer reassurance.  Once he stops his inappropriate behavior, pet him calmly and tell him that everything is okay in a soothing voice at least until he settles down, if not for the duration of the storm or fireworks display.
  2. Focus your dog’s attention on something else. Try distracting your dog with something he can’t resist.  By refocusing his attention on something irresistible such as a long-lasting food treat such as a rawhide or a toy stuffed with his favorite snacks, he will be less likely to give the thunder or fireworks his full attention.  Be sure to make your dog sit or lie down before you give him his special treat so that he associates what you are giving him with good behavior rather than his fearful tendencies.
  3. Create a place for your dog to hide. Bring your dog inside your home and give him a place to go where he’ll feel safe (no dog should be left outside during severe weather).  If you crate your dog, make sure the door to his personal “getaway” is open so he can go into the space that he already considers to be his own.  If you don’t have a crate, consider opening your closet door so that your dog can go inside and lie down, but be sure that the door remains open while your pet is in your closet!  You don’t want your dog to develop a fear of your closet/small spaces or being locked away from his humans, after all!
  4. Turn up the volume! You can use the appliances that you have in your home to try to drown out the claps of thunder and fireworks that are stressing your dog out.  Turn the volume up on your television or radio!  Using a box fan (or two) is also a great way to drown out the worrisome noises.

Just as there are things you can do during a storm or fireworks display to calm your dog down, there are also some things you can try to prepare your dog for the next noisy day or night.  You can try to desensitize your dog to prolonged periods of loud, unexpected noises, for instance.  You can play videos of thunderstorms with the audio turned on and either ignore your dog so that he thinks the noises are nothing to worry about or give him a treat that he can positively associate with the sounds he hears.  To desensitize your dog, you will want to play these videos at increasingly louder volumes slowly over time.

Of course, you can also talk to your dog’s veterinarian about medicating your dog during thunderstorms or fireworks displays.  Alternatively, you can try some natural calming remedies that are readily available over the counter.  Exercising your dog every day, with a little extra activity on the days when storms or fireworks are likely, will help to decrease your dog’s overall anxiety and lessen the stress he experiences when things are especially noisy outside.

If none of these suggestions help relieve your dog’s fear, consider consulting a behaviorist or trainer.  Also, if you have to leave your pet home alone during a storm or fireworks display, considering hiring a pet sitter to stay with him at least through the duration of the event.

Remember – dogs who ordinarily show no predilection to run away from home may try to run away from the source of his fear, a.k.a. the storm or fireworks, without realizing the potentially deadly consequences of bolting out of their homes or yards.  So, always make sure your doors and fence gates are secure, particularly during periods when your pet is likely to be afraid of something.  Make sure your dog is microchipped and that your contact information is current, too.