This article can help you help your pet with noise phobias such as fireworks and thunderstorms that may affect your pet.
Noise phobias develop from fear and in these cases, are an irrational response to a stimulus. Part of our behavioural modification strategy is to teach the pet that they do not need to fearful during these situations.
(1) Desensitization: This is a process in which the noxious stimulus is applied at at very low intensity that would be incompatible with the fearful response. The intensity is then gradually increased over time. For example, playing a thunderstorm CD at low levels and gradually increasing the volume over a period of many days/weeks may prove to be beneficial. It must be noted that while pets seem to be very sensitive the loud thunder, there are many other factors as well such as wind, rain and barometric pressure.
(2) Counter Conditioning: This is the process in which you would play with or feed your dog treats while the pet is subjected to low levels of the stimulus. They should therefore, over time develop a positive association between the sounds and treats. It is important to start this behavioural modification strategy during low stimulus (as discussed above). It is important not to give the treat or reward until the fearful behaviour ceases. Remember, comforting the frightened dog is a reward! Similarly, dogs should not be punished for this behaviour. The increasing intensity of the stimulus should be managed so that at no point does it induce fearful behaviour, the goal is to insure a positive association with the stimulus at all times.
It is very important to understand that behavioural modification strategies take time, effort and patience! We recommend to perform these exercises at least daily, if not multiple times daily for the optimal results and to give your pet the best chance to learn! Its best to begin training during times of the year, when exposure to the fear evoking stimuli can be avoided, so that the pet can be improved prior to the next thunderstorm season.
(3) Medications: Specific medications prescribed by your veterinarian can be extremely beneficial. It is best to use these medications concurrently with a behavioural modification strategy to achieve optimal results.
(4) Other therapies: We have had success with Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP). This is a safe collar that you would place on your dog and exhibits a calming behaviour. In addition, there is a new veterinary diet from Royal Canin called “Calm”. This diet has also been show via studies to be beneficial in a variety of behavioural disorders. Lastly, a “natural” medicine called Zylkene that will help your dog during the stress of the noxious stimuli (thunderstorms, fireworks).
In any case, to develop the proper successful strategy for you pet, it is best to seek the advice of your veterinarian.