Happy New Year! Bring on the fireworks. Bring on the dog's anxiety …
In this post, four dog owners share their tips for helping their dogs with extreme fireworks or thunder anxiety.
I've written a couple of posts that go over the basics of helping a dog that’s scared of fireworks.
But what do you do if nothing seems to work?
For this post, I asked dog owners how they manage their dogs’ fears, because sometimes you just can’t make their fears go away.
I hope this post can be helpful to others who have extremely fearful dogs.
Please add your own experiences or advice in the comments, keeping in mind that every dog is unique. And please share this post in order to help other dogs.
How do you manage your dog’s extreme fear of fireworks or thunder?
Tonya Wilhelm and Theo
Tonya Wilhelm said her dog Theo (who passed away in 2009) was the “most extreme” case of thunder phobia she has seen.
If she happened to be home with Theo during a thunderstorm, she said his eyes would become dilated and he’d pant, pace, dig, try to knock things over and would not settle down.
“If I was gone, he ate the carpet, walls, knocked over everything in sight, urinated and defecated,” she said.
Wilhelm could not find anything to fix her dog’s behavior.
She tried working on a desensitization training program and tried giving him medications.
She also moved in with her mom so Theo would be alone less often.
During thunderstorms, Wilhelm would put Theo in a tight-fitting T-shirt with gun earmuffs over his ears. She turned on the TV and a box fan and snuggled up right on top of him.
If Theo had to be left alone, she put him in his crate with a piece of Plexiglas attached to the inside of the crate's door. This kept him from damaging his nails when clawing at the door.
Today, Wilhelm is a professional dog trainer with Global Dog Trainer and she has found a couple of ideas that help some of her clients' dogs with thunderstorm phobias.
First of all, she uses “food therapy” by starting her clients' dogs on a “cooling diet that is high in blood tonics.”
This often includes rabbit, sardines, oysters, parsley, carrots and spinach, she said.
She also suggests the following:
- The music “Through A Dog’s Ear,” designed to help dogs relax
- Dog appeasing pheromones
- The Storm Defender Cape, which is like a Thundershirt
- Ear muffs for dogs
- A natural calming product called Storm Stress
- A white noise machine
Finally, Wilhelm said it's important to give your dog any medication or calming aids before your dog is feeling stressed. This gives the medication sufficient time to enter the dog's body.
Elaina Cowdell and Lilly
Elaina Cowdell’s dog Lilly is scared of thunder, fireworks and gunshots.
According to Cowdell, Lilly will try to get away from what’s scaring her and will destroy blinds or go through screens in the process.
“I tried everything under the sun,” she said. “Thunder coats, calming sprays and collars, calming and desensitizing CDs, I bought and tried it all.”
What finally helped was to find a vet willing to work with Cowdell on finding the right medication to manage Lilly’s anxiety.
Cowdell also found a trainer who specializes in fearful dogs and uses desensitization training.
“For example, when a thunderstorm is happening, I will get high-value treats and throw them in the air and tell her to ‘find it' every time thunder happens,” she said.
“This does two things. It helps her to start thinking that thunder means yummy treats and it's a good thing, and it helps distract her by finding all of the treats.”
When Cowdell can’t be home with Lilly and there’s potential for thunderstorms or fireworks, she said she leaves her dog at a daycare.
If she’s home with Lilly and it gets really bad, Cowdell will give Lilly a vet-approved extra dose of medication to help calm her while she holds her.
“We go downstairs, turn the radio or TV up loud and I do everything I can to minimize the sound and make her feel safe.”
Sandy Cumberland and Pequena
“I believe that the locals may have taken pot shots at her and the other feral dogs to keep them from garbage and from the fish as the fisherman hauled their nets onto the beach,” she said.
“A single percussive sound – a car backfiring, even the sound of a stapler – will put her into a nervous state. You can imagine what fireworks do to her!”
During fireworks, Cumberland said her dog runs to the closet and buries herself as deeply as she can.
“Her whole body shakes. She pants furiously, with the whites of her eyes showing all around.”
In attempts to help Pequena, Cumberland said she has tried various natural remedies for her dog.
“None had any impact at all.”
Her vet suggested a prescription tranquilizer but because Pequena is sensitive to medications Cumberland didn't want to go that route.
So, if she knows there will be fireworks, Cumberland stays home with Pequena or arranges for someone to be there.
“I sit near the closet and talk to her in a soothing voice. If I can reach her, I will keep my hand on her, stroking her as I speak,” she said.
“I don't attempt to hold her, even though as a human our temptation is to cuddle someone who is afraid, as being confined will just increase the anxiety.”
When the noise is over, she makes sure to give her dog water and then Pequena sleeps for a long time but never has any long-term effects.
“Like humans who suffer from anxiety, between episodes her life is very normal.”
Kirsten Stuart and Abbie
Kirsten Stuart has an 8-year-old boxer/pitbull mix named Abbie who has always had a fear of thunder and fireworks.
“She seems to hear the most distant sound of thunder even before I do,” Stuart said. “She gets this look of sheer terror on her face and crawls on my lap.”
She said Abbie shakes and pants, and fireworks are even scarier for her.
“With the sound of each firework, she flinches and the fear in her eyes is just sad, all you see is sheer terror.”
Stuart said she has tried everything from oils and natural herbs to a Thundershirt to taking Abbie to the basement to play.
“I have resigned to the fact that she is and will be deathly afraid of fireworks, and as her dog mom I need to find the best and safest solution to try to calm her.”
In this case, Stuart has found that medication is the only solution to keep Abbie calm.
“The dosage has been carefully decided upon by our vet and she gets just enough to calm her through fireworks displays,” Stuart said.
“Now that I have found a solution for both thunderstorms and fireworks, it is much calmer at the house during these events.”
Her advice to other dog owners it to remember every dog is different.
“Find what works for them and is comfortable for the both of you.”
What ideas to the rest of you have?
How does your dog respond to fireworks?
*This post contains affiliate links.