It is quite common for dogs to be scared of noises such as thunder, fireworks, low-flying aircraft, the vacuum cleaner, noisy toys, and for those who live in the country - guns and bird scarers. Just because we know what the noise is doesn't mean our dogs understand it. Or on the other hand, if you're nervous about any of these things, your dog will pick up on that. And these noises can happen at any time, so you need to be prepared to deal with your dog's reaction whenever necessary. For example, in the UK, fireworks used to be for November 5th only but they seem to happen all year round now - from New Year onwards!
As always, dogs look for leadership in their pack. The leader takes control of everything calmly and keeps the pack safe at all times, including when unusual things happen - like loud noises. So the way you deal with the situation will dictate how your dog reacts.
These are available in pet shops and the idea is that you play the CD with its firework noises etc, very quietly at first, giving your dog the chance to simply get used to it, assuming that you take no notice of it too and carry on as normal. I'm sure there are many people who have had success with this method but you may find that you desensitise your dog to the CD but not to the real thing when it happens. I have a dog who doesn't like thunder and fireworks when they're outside but doesn't react to them on TV.....If you want to try one of these CDs, maybe keep the receipt just in case.
There are plug-in devices and sprays available which emit a natural pheromone ("feel-good" hormone) to calm stressed and nervous dogs. They are also available for cats. They seem to have mixed results - some people swear by them, others say they don't help. It's a natural product so can't do any harm. A matter of trial and error it seems, but may take time before any effect is seen. And probably no help at all if you are taken unawares and the device isn't plugged in.
In severe cases or for one-off events, your vet might prescribe a sedative to help your dog through a difficult time such as November 5th but I'm sure any dog owner would want a long-term solution for the future. Homeopathic and natural products are also available which are given orally - directly in the mouth, or in the food or water. As with the pheromone devices, there are mixed results so there's no harm in trying as it's a natural, non-toxic product.
What if you have no products or gadgets and your dog goes into a panic due to a noise? If it's something you have control over such as the vacuum cleaner, the simplest solution is to move the dog into another room or area while you use it. Never, ever tease your dog with it and consider a desensitisation exercise to get your dog used to it gradually. Firstly, just have the vacuum sitting around. If & when your dog's OK with that, plug it in but don't switch it on. When your dog's OK with that, switch it on for a couple of seconds then switch it off again - all without paying any attention to your dog - apart from praise for not reacting. Gradually build it up, leaving the vacuum on for a little longer each time, moving it a very small distance and so on, stopping at any point your dog starts to get anxious, showing him there's no need to panic.
But the biggest problems come with the noises we have no control over such as thunderstorms and fireworks. Dogs usually react in one of two ways:
If this is what your dog wants to do, let him. They will often find the most bizarre places, somewhere they wouldn't normally choose to sit. But if it's safe, leave him be and don't try to coax him out. Carry on with what you're doing and just act normally - preferably so your dog can see you from his hiding place and he realises no-one else is bothered about the noise. So if he disappears under the bed, you could go into the bedroom too - sit and watch TV or read, do the ironing, or do one of those jobs you've been meaning to do for ages such as sort through your shoe collection or the sock drawer. Background noise from TV or music will help to add to the normality and will help drown out the noise from outside but won't block it completely - your dog's hearing is too good for that.
If your dog paces, pants, barks - anything other than settle down to ride it out, you need to step in and break the cycle using what is known as a calm hold. It might take a while, so be prepared for that and get together anything you need to entertain yourself for the duration. Get a drink, a book, the TV remote, the laptop - whatever you need. Take your dog by the collar (perhaps with a lead or use a slip lead), sit yourself down and get comfy. Don't call your dog to you and don't bother asking him to sit or lie down - in his distressed state, he's not going to listen. Just hold him by the collar or lead. Do NOT fuss him, stroke him, cuddle him, talk to him or try to distract him with food. You are simply going to be a calm presence, showing him that you're not bothered by this noise and he can follow your example. If you fuss him, this can be interpreted that you are also nervous, trying to reassure yourself, so doesn't convince your dog that everything really is OK. Act like a canine pack leader would - cool, calm and aloof. It might take your dog a while to settle, especially the first time you do it, so be patient and persistent. Gradually your dog will begin to settle with the breathing slowing down and even choosing to sit or lie down. And each time you carry out this method, you should find that the time it takes for your dog to relax gradually reduces.
The calm hold can be used when outside or in the car, if it's safe and practical to do so. The car can be a good refuge as dogs often feel safer in a confined space. But also consider the dog's preferred way of dealing with something scary - flight. If you can get away from the noise, do so, but calmly of course. If the scary noise is something that is regularly encountered outside rather than at home eg sporting guns, a gradual desensitisation exercise would be required, along the same lines as described above, with gradual introductions and a step-by-step approach.
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