New Year’s Eve is just a few days away. Will there be fireworks and celebrating in your neighborhood? If so, you may need to give your best friend some extra comfort.
Why do some dogs get scared by loud noises like fireworks? According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BvMS, DACVA, DACVB, from the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, “No one really knows. It may be because of something that does or does not happen during the first three-months of a dog’s life. Genetics may also play a role too. Herding breeds (like the German Shepherd, Border Collie, and Pembroke Welsh Corgi to name a few) seem more prone and therefore may be a little more anxious during storms or around loud noises.”
Calming children that are frightened by a scary noise is easier. Usually responding to their fear with something like, “Don’t worry, it was just fireworks.” with and example of the fireworks will often calm their fears, and may even interest them in the noise. Unfortunately for a dog that is afraid of loud noises, no explanation will help. Noise Anxiety is a very common problem for dogs across the country.
Is it really Noise Anxiety?
Although they might all sound the same, fear, anxiety, and phobia are actually quite different.
“Fear is a physiologic, emotional, and behavioral response to animate or inanimate things that pose a threat of harm,” explains Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, and clinical instructor at the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Fear is a normal reaction because it enables animals to respond to situations that could be potentially dangerous.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is what Borns-Weil defines as a persistent fear or apprehension of something that is not present or imminent. And finally, there are phobias: extreme, persistent fears of a particular stimulus, such as a fireworks and thunderstorms, that is entirely out of proportion to the level of threat it poses.
“Noise phobia is an extreme, persistent fear of auditory stimuli that is out of proportion to the real danger, if any, associated with the noise,” says Borns-Weil. “There is no survival advantage conferred on an animal that panics in response to things that are not truly threatening or dangerous.”
How can you help?
If your dog is crate trained and in a solitary mood, he may go to his crate on his own to self-soothe, or you can lead the way. A blanket draped over the crate may might him relax.
But if your dog doesn’t normally use a crate, or even worse, has a fear of crates due to a past bad experience or training experiences, this isn’t the time to crate him. Under no circumstances should a fearful pup be forced into a crate either when he’s already scared, or in anticipation of a panic response to weather or other noises. Your dog will feel trapped, which will make his reaction to it worse.
If your dog is afraid of storms or other loud outside noises, leaving him outdoors while he’s scared or panicked is a really bad idea. Dogs regularly run away or can seriously injure themselves attempting to escape outdoor enclosures or runs during storms, fireworks displays, and other noisy events.
You might also try moving him to a quiet room in your home and leave him alone there to self-soothe (as long as he’s not frantic), or stay with him to provide comfort. A calm environment can often provide relief to scared pups.
Some scared dogs will look for darker, quiet corners on their own where they can calm themselves down. In these cases you should offer a closet floor, or space under a table or desk for a frightened pet to comfort himself.
If he continues to panic in his dark, quiet space, it isn’t what he needs to help him relax. In this case you can play calm, soothing music before a possible stressor occurs. This may both relax your dog and drown out distressing noises.