We are once again heading into fireworks and thunderstorm season and every day it seems I am asked what can be done about Muffy fears of loud noises: “My dog hides in a closet during storms.” “My dog tears up the house whenever there are fireworks.” “My dog sits in a corner, pees on the floor and just shakes whenever it’s thundering.” These are all very common experiences. Some dogs have always reacted like this but some only develop these phobias when they are older, sometimes after their hearing diminishes.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for dogs like this. There is no “one size fits all” solution. Treatments include behavior modification, isolation, natural and synthetic tranquilizers and occasionally the use of antioxidants.
Behavior modification is usually the place to start and that should begin with talking to your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. He/she may suggest desensitizing the dog to the loud noise. The goal is to make thunder and other loud noises fun. For example, play with your dog during the storm. Make a recording of loud noises then while doing something your dog enjoys (eating, playing fetch, etc.) play the recording softly at first, and then increase the volume as your dog becomes accustomed to the sounds. Don’t increase the volume too quickly; make sure your dog is not scared during the game. Remember loud noise=fun.
Some dogs don’t respond to behavior modification and instead need sedatives. Often dogs will respond differently to the various types of medication available. I usually like to begin by using an all-natural formula that I have. This formula consist of different types of vitamins and herbs that in some cases can take the edge off the animal enough for the modification techniques to become effective. If the natural formulation doesn’t work then we may need to use a prescription drugs. There are several common types used and again, not all dogs react the same way. Some dogs need only a small dose to be effective while another dog the same size may need a very large dose. I always start with a small dose and work my way up when necessary. The disadvantage of prescription drug treatment is you have to give the pill(s) prior to the upsetting event and in the case of thunder this might not be feasible.
Some people swear by putting a tight fitting T-shirt on the dog. They say this keeps the dog calm, similar to a baby being swaddled. There is even a commercial product called the “Thundershirt” that I have heard good reports about. Older dogs might respond to adding antioxidants to their diet. MSM and other antioxidants can be found in most pet supplies stores, but again, it might not work in all cases.
While it can be disconcerting to see your beloved canine upset with loudness, there are approaches to improve his or her reaction. Your veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist is there to help.