It’s that time of year. Rain. Pouring rain. Oh then a little sunshine—boom!— the fireworks have started. Now is not to late to start preparing your dog for noisy holidays and seasonal storms. If you’ve found your dog hiding in the bath tub, these are not polite suggestions but rather requirements for a healthier dog. Call me for help.
Many practical suggestions for thunderstorm fears also apply to other noise phobias. Today we’ll discuss management, easy ways to prevent stress, and what may help in the moment. This blog is practical advice. Please seek professional consultation if your dog hurts himself or damages property.
Let’s begin by offering the best piece of advice anyone can give – for FREE – right now: exercise your dog more. You heard it here first folks! Exercise before scary events helps dogs relax in advance and can even increase feel good brain chemicals that last beyond the time of exercise. Exercising regularly increases these benefits.
But after you’ve exercised your dog’s body, it’s time to enrich his mind. Mentally stimulating games and toys give you the opportunity to wear out your dog’s brain. What activities make your dog think? Try using puzzle enrichment toys to keep him busy during stress and further tire him out. And of course, teach him new things! Nothing helps dogs relax more than a tired body and mind. Training itself can be a huge boon to dealing with stress but learning new ways to communicate reduces our dogs anxiety while building confidence. All of these are management techniques.
If you have added exercise, mental and physical, and it wasn’t enough, take a step back and make sure you really gave your dog enough exercise. Seriously. Most dogs, like their humans, don’t get enough exercise.
Next, we can evaluate a few over the counter products that can work to relieve anxiety including sound phobia. A personal favorite is the Thundershirt wrap which acts like a hug for your dog. It’s a fabric shirt that has Velcro for easy fitting. It can make such a difference! It’s also worth trying a tight t-shirt in its stead. Note: Be careful to have your dog wear the Thundershirt during calm times as well as stressful.
July Third by Herbsmith
I am am a tremendous fan of July Third which is an over the counter calming chew made by Herbsmith. It’s aptly named – start using the product regularly for chronic anxiety or the day before for specific phobias.
I have used July Third with my own dog on a number of occasions such as extended absences, trips to the vet, storms and fireworks, and when our routine is out of whack. I was sold on this product when we used it during a 6 week long remodel at my house. I’ve been recommending to clients since. Do note that results vary and it’s always a good idea to ask your vet before adding this to your dog’s diet. This one is easy to find on Amazon.
Dog Appeasing Pheromones (DAP)
There are a number with pheromones that mimic those given off by mother dogs. I have mixed reviews personally but I have had a number of clients benefit. For best results, use a plug in pheromone as well as a spray product on a collar or Thundershirt type product. Pheromone collars are also available but as this is a chemical product the collar can irritate the skin of some dogs.
Through a Dog’s Ear
This is an easy one. Consider leaving calming music on during stressful times to reduce stress. Be careful not to only play music during stressful times or the music may begin to predict stress. Many people simply leave the radio on and that’s a great choice. Kick it up a notch and play calming music for dogs. Try playing Through A Dog’s Ear any time you want your dog to relax. Available on Amazon. We play this CD during every class at Laurie Tuttle Dog Training.
Ultimately, I am a huge fan of veterinary intervention. Veterinarians can rule out under-lying causes for behavior such as pain and can identify if medication should be used for fearful behaviors. A veterinarian may suggest prescribing something for your dog. If your vet is not familiar with behavior treatment, he can schedule a phone consult with a veterinary behaviorist. You can refer him to the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at dacvb.org to consult on your case. Sometimes these consults are free. Remember that a treatment plan including medications may require additional follow up and will absolutely require a Behavioral Consultant or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer as well as a commitment to to following through.
An Important Note: Sometimes vets prescribe acepromazine (or “Ace”) for noise phobia. Acepromazine is like a “chemical straight jacket” as it paralyzes your dog so he doesn’t act out inappropriate behavior. Your dog is still conscious during this process. It increases fear levels because our dogs are consciously afraid but unable to retreat to safety. This drug has a sedative effect where many other medication choices do not.
The key is to find out what works for you and your dog. Adding exercise and mental stimulation is great for every dog. Adding over the counter products may help, too. Ultimately if you don’t see improvement quickly, it is the time to find a qualified vet who knows behavior and will work directly with the Certified Professional Dog Trainer (like me) or Certified Canine Behavioral Consultant. Please message me for vet suggestions.
There’s help! Just remember it takes time and effort!