Summer is a fun time for dogs and their people. Warm weather to go swimming, play fetch in the park, and have fun outside. However, as summer continues, thunderstorms and fireworks roll in as well, which can be stressful for some dogs.
The loud crash of thunder or burst of a firework can be overwhelming, even for humans. Considering dogs have more sensitive ears than people, these booms can create noise anxiety for pups.
Maria Verbrugge DVM’03, a clinical instructor of primary care at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, says this anxiety exists “on a spectrum.” A mildly anxious dog may pace or pant, look for ways to get away or get clingy with owners. More anxious dogs have more extreme responses. They’ll exhibit “attention-seeking behaviors,” Verbrugge explains, like scratching the floor, not sleeping, whining and injuring themselves.
It is unclear why these behaviors happen in some dogs and not others. They can stem from a bad experience with a storm or fireworks, or be a trait of the dog’s personality. These behaviors can worsen with time because dogs start to anticipate the noise as storms or fireworks begin.
However, there are ways to mitigate these responses and stop them from progressing. “You want to form a positive response” to storms or fireworks by playing games or giving treats during the event, Verbrugge explains.
“Demonstrate that these loud noises are not doing anything and are not dangerous,” she adds. This is especially important for young dogs to avoid a negative association in the first place. “If you are relaxed, they are relaxed.”
If a dog has already developed anxiety around fireworks and storms, Verbrugge advises that you “do what you can to minimize what they are experiencing.” For example, placing the dog in a safe, sheltered room, like a basement or windowless room, and playing background noise, such as a fan or TV, helps mask outside sounds. Being with your dog and distracting them with treats or a game will also help make them more comfortable.
However, being with your dog isn’t always an option, especially on holidays like the Fourth of July. Many dog owners turn to various brands of animal anxiety shirts – tight-fitting shirts, wraps or jackets that apply gentle pressure to the body – though they don’t work for every dog, and scientific evidence of their effectiveness is limited.
If you can’t be with your dog during fireworks, masking the noise will still be beneficial. Ultimately, if you know your dog is anxious around fireworks or hasn’t experienced them before, “have someone check on them” or hire a pet sitter, Verbrugge advises.
You can also talk to your veterinarian about medication options if your dog has severe noise anxiety due to thunderstorms or fireworks.