My dog is scared of loud noises, what can I do?
At Lurcher Link we quite often get people contacting us for advice about how to help their dog when they're scared of loud noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks, so I thought I'd write a little bit about what you can do to try and make their life more bearable – especially around Bonfire Night/ Season.
It's quite common for dogs' hearing to change as they get older and although some dogs might become a little “deaf” which can be a good thing if they can no longer hear loud bangs, sometimes they actually become more sensitive to different sounds. So a dog which has been absolutely fine about fireworks going off all its life, might suddenly become a shaking wreck for no apparent reason. Obviously go and get your dog checked over by a vet to make sure there's no health problems, but there are steps you can take at home to try and help.
1) If it's fireworks which are the problem, consider going away somewhere really remote for a short break if you live somewhere there will be a lot of displays happening near your home.
2) Start early (NOW) and get one of the “fireworks” noise desensitisation CDs or downloads from the Internet and follow the instructions, starting quietly and gradually and slowly building it up. The Dogs Trust have a good pdf on their website which you can download:
3) Close all your curtains, put the lights on in your chosen room, turn the TV or radio up loud (maybe warn your neighbours in advance!) and make a “safe place” for the dog. If he wants to hide under the table or behind the sofa, put a bed their for him or set up a crate with covers over it, so it's like a “den”. Give him a juicy bone or a filled Kong to try and distract him and just be there to reassure him, in a “matter of fact” way, that everything's OK. You don't need to ignore him, or mollycoddle him, just be a reassuring presence for him if he wants to snuggle up with you. He may choose to hide away, but if you're in the room too, it will help him.
4) Some dogs benefit from wearing a Thundershirt, a tight fitting T shirt or a TTouch body wrap – using a crepe type bandage. This provides a comforting “hug” which settles them, much as swaddling comforts a baby. (See diagrams below)
5) There are various types of medication you can use, from herbal remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Scullcap and Valerian tablets through to sedatives from your vet. It depends on your dog's anxiety level as to how much of what medication is effective – but be aware that some sedatives can practically “paralyse” your dogs' movements, whilst they're still fully aware of the scary noise happening, so if your dog is really frightened, seek professional advice, don't get get something off a bloke from the Internet!
6) Learn some Calming Techniques such at TTouch and Calming Signals from Turid Rugaas (http://en.turid-rugaas.no/calming-signals---the-art-of-survival.html) – it's surprising how effective a bit of yawning and lip licking can be.
7) Thunderstorms can be more unpredictable than fireworks, but you can still use coping mechanisms such as a “safe place”, turning up the volume and using Thundershirts or body wraps as well as TTouch and Calming Signals.
8) Find a good behaviourist and seek their advice if you're worried you can't do anything yourself. Sometimes all you need is someone to show you how to cope with a situation to give you the confidence to deal with it – and that's exactly what you'll be passing on to your dog.