Written by Marissa Ann Portillo, BS, RLATG, CM
This time of year has always been difficult for my family. Between the thunderstorms, fireworks, and parades, we have a hard time keeping our household calm. We have four beloved dogs that are all sensitive to loud noises and popping sounds. Each one of them has a varying degree of terror and anxiety associated with these events and we have worked tirelessly to find solutions.
Fear of loud noises is common in dogs, but there are solutions that pet owners can try to help them feel more calm and safe. Like most dog parents, we have tried everything. Here’s what works for each of our fur kids!
Age: 13 years
Reaction: Crying, howling, pacing, panting, shaking, self-injury (chewing on leg/paw)
His best solution: Close cuddles and white noise
Sebastian (a.k.a Sebi) is severely stressed by upcoming thunderstorms. His anxiety reaches its peak right before the storm arrives and once the lightning and thunder commence, he is nearly inconsolable. We have found that closely cuddling him and turning on white noise (box fan and a nature audio selection) provide him with some comfort. He also has a history of self-injury which has included chewing his leg/paw to the point of drawing blood. If your pet has anxiety that results in self-injury, consult your veterinarian for a possible pharmaceutical solution. We had to bring Sebi to the ER several years ago for the self-injury and we were provided with several non-habit-forming options for pharmaceutical stress management. With time, Sebi has thankfully ceased the self-injury behavior, but some pets will continue this extreme stress reaction so it’s best to monitor your pets closely.
Age: 5 years
Breed: Chihuahua x Rat Terrier x Dachshund
Fear: Fireworks (especially poppers)
Reaction: Shaking, hiding, whimpering
His best solution: Blanket wrapping, a dark room, and white noise
Smeagol has always been a bit of a worry-wart. He most notably has difficulty handling popping noises and fireworks. He has a habit of running to hide in very inconvenient places and so he is a flight risk if a door should open. We have found that providing a dark room with white noise (he likes crickets and nature sounds) and wrapping him in his favorite blanket are his best solution. Sometimes pets feel insecure during these times, especially if they feel they can’t protect their owners. Providing security with things like blankets and distracting noises to cancel out the loud noises help them feel more safe and protected.
Age: 5 years
Breed: English Bulldog
Fears: Everything out of the ordinary
Reaction: Fear aggression, excessive barking, biting at the air
Her best solution: Her bathroom safe spot and a distraction toy
Miss Piggy has always been very fear aggressive, but loud unexpected noises really turn her into a monster. She is a completely different dog when she is dealing with loud noises of any kind. We noticed that she often ventured into the bathroom during thunderstorms specifically and this became her safe spot. Now for all loud events, we make sure her cozy spot is prepared; this includes her favorite blanket and her beloved “boney”. We place peanut butter and her favorite cookies in the boney so she has something to occupy her mind during the events. Once she is settled in her cozy spot, she goes back to her normal loving self. We have been lucky that her fear aggression is not directed toward us or the other pets, but if your pet should ever develop aggression towards you or your family (including pets!) please consult your veterinarian for advice.
Age: 5 years
Breed: Longhaired miniature dachshund
Fears: None – she believes she’s invincible
Reaction: CoCo feeds off the stress of our other dogs and becomes an antagonist
CoCo Bean is a fearless pup. She may be small, but she is mighty and the smallest one of our crew fears the least. Like many dachshunds, she feels she is totally immune to all happenings around her. This becomes problematic for our family during the storms, fireworks, and parades because she often turns into a bully. Our solution for this behavior is to separate her from the other dogs while ensuring that she thinks she made that decision. We often allow her the option to spend time on the porch, which she never turns down, and this provides the distance between her and the others that we need during times like these.
I hope this glimpse into our family has been helpful, but remember – every family is different, and every pet is different. Please always consult your veterinarian if you have questions before starting a new routine. If you feel your pet may need pharmaceutical intervention, please write a detailed list of your pet’s reactions during specific events so that the doctor may provide you with the most complete option for you and your family.