Pets, Fireworks, Thunder & Loud Noises
Author, Dorinne Whynott,
Owner of Animal Care Center of NH & Professional Pet Sitting Etc.
Every year I see many posts of pets harming themselves, running scared and becoming lost due to fireworks, thunder or other loud noises. I have seen pets jump out windows, break legs, and have deep gashes. I have heard of pets bolting through doors and being hit by a car. We need to set our pets up for success. This kind of fear is deadly. This can be for dogs or cats or any pet.
Neighbors and towns setting off fireworks, are always going to happen and you can not stop a thunderstorm. These things happen so infrequently, that many pets do not get to realize that the world is not exploding around them. So, what can you do?
If you know your pet is sensitive to loud noises or worse, they harm themselves, there are some things you can do to help lessen the impact on your pet.
I am a big believer in doing whatever it takes to help your pet overcome any stressor. Here are some things that have worked for many animals and their owners as well as for animals that I have rescued and fostered.
First, you MUST act normal and relaxed. Many times, pets pick up on their owners. If you do not like loud noises, fireworks or thunder, you may be giving signals to your pets that they should be nervous or afraid too.
If you owned a pet in the past that was afraid of these things, you may unknowingly be telling your pet that you expect them to act that way as well.
I have always LOVED fireworks. I absolutely love thunder and lightening storms. I do not know if that is the reason that I do not have pets that react negatively to these things but I do think that it helps your pets if you are relaxed and act normally when these things happen.
Always make sure your pet has updated identification. The fastest way someone can contact you will always be an ID tag. Make sure to put at least TWO phone numbers, just to ensure the fastest way to contact you.
Microchipping is also advised, just in case a tag falls off.
CREATE A BASE
Obedience training for dogs. Even if your dog knows some commands, I would recommend obedience training on a regular basis. The more training you do with your dog, the better your dog will feel and the trust in you will grow. They will look to you for all of their cues, even in how they should act in a given situation. Reinforce commands at every feeding time. Every time you feed just put your dog in a sit, down, come, wait, stay or whatever commands you have. Dogs do enjoy pleasing you.
Cats can also be trained for boundaries, to come, etc. Their training is a bit different but this helps cats to have a base as well. Cats that are allowed to free feed and hide under a bed, will never be a full member of a family. Start with basic, go to advanced and use it every day.
I can not stress enough that training helps with many, many issues that pets have. This alone can give your pets confidence.
DESENSITIZATION and COUNTER CONDITIONING
Both desensitization and counter conditioning have worked well for me in many of the rescued, traumatized and abused animals that I have worked with over the years.
Desensitization is doing something over and over again until it no longer has a negative or stress reaction. For example, if a pet hates having his paw touched, doing this over and over and over in a positive way will bring about the result that this dog will be okay to touch his paw.
Counter Conditioning is changing the thought process of a given event. For example, if a dog views men in hats negatively, if we always have any man in a hat give, that same dog the best treat every time and this dog ONLY gets that treat from a man in a hat, after a while, that dog will look forward to and be happy to see men in hats!!
If you do any of the suggestions in this article, always start slow, never scold, just stop if you get a negative reaction and try again later. Don’t give up. Each pet will get it in their own time. Just keep doing it. Some pets take a few weeks to change and some take a few years. Every pet is different and their past experiences are different.
At our Animal Care Center of NH, we start playing a fireworks cd a month prior to July 4th. We start with a very low volume. While all the dogs are playing or doing an activity they they all love. The more they ignore the sounds with no reaction, the more praise they get. This is always done in a very relaxed, happy atmosphere. Generally, we only see small reactions on the first day. It is a different noise. We have observed that all the dogs stop reacting at all when we do our normal activities. They have a routine of playing, doing obedience, doing our puzzles or nose work. As time goes on, each day we increase the volume.
We have had all dogs in our program, relaxed and have no anxiety or worry around fireworks or loud noises while in our program, however, we understand that things maybe different at home because those noises are not normal at home. We do encourage owners to play fireworks cd at home as well.
CAUTION – We would never advocate dogs being taken to a fireworks display, even if they are okay with the sounds. Fireworks that are close, give off vibrations that we all can feel. That can be a bit disturbing to your dog because it is not just the sound. The goal is to have your dog calm and relaxed at home, where they feel safe while these sounds are outside.
If you are lucky enough to adopt a kitten or puppy, get them used to loud noises. You can play loud music, bang on a drum (if you have one), bang your pots and pans, use an air horn. You can also buy CDs of thunder and fireworks for this purpose.
I do not mean that you should do this continuously. Start out with just one bang. Act like it was nothing. Then do this every now and then. Always making sure to never push your pet too far. Just short sessions of a second, then a few seconds. and so on. If you see that your pet is relaxed after one bang, go to 2 next time. If relaxed after 2 bangs, go to 3 next time. Do not increase if your pet is not relaxed.
Same goes with the volume when playing a CD, play it for a few minutes on low. If relaxed keep playing it on low. Then next session, increase the volume.
Stop any session if you see your pet becoming nervous, upset, etc.
Remember, this is not to scare your pet, it is to make it so your pet understands it is not a big deal and that they are safe. And it will be over soon.
After each session, walk away.
Follow the same as above. Many times, when we bring home a pet, we can be quiet and may even change how we do things because we want our pets to always be happy. That is not a bad thing but we also want to teach our pets to be okay with things they may not like. It is possible that they may have had a bad experience with a loud noise and now every time they hear a loud noise they react.
These reactions can be VERY harmful if they break through a window, or jump from a balcony or something else. We need to change the way they think of these loud noises, from a bad experience to a more tolerant one. They may never sleep through fireworks but at least they can be a bit more relaxed when they happen.
This is not going to happen overnight with a dog that is no longer a puppy. So, you must be consistent in doing something every few days.
It can be any of the things I mentioned above but it can also be you rooting for your favorite team. Yell and shout when they hit a goal. Or if your favorite song comes on, turn it up loud and sing your heart out. Clap and stomp your feet. Let your pets see that you are happy and everything is okay.
When you get ready to feed bang a pot, then feed the pets.
Graduate to playing the fireworks tape for a minute, then feed.
Again, your pet may not be relaxed with fireworks, thunder or loud noise for 6 months or maybe a few years. But they will become less frightened the more exposed they are to these things in a calm, relaxed happy environment.
Relaxing aromas help people and can also helps pet. You can try lavender in your diffuser.
There are pheromone diffusers specifically made for cats or dogs. Many animals have done well on these for anxiety.
However, as with people, aroma therapy helps some and not others.
WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS NO TIME FOR ABOVE
Okay, so the forecast is stating a big thunder and lightening storm is coming in a few days or the Fourth of July is right around the corner, what can you do.
I am not one for giving too many medications, but if it keeps a pet safe, it is better to give. Talk with your vet. Explain your fears as well as your pets. It may be possible that your vet will prescribe some medication to help your pet relax. Keep in mind that you must give these medications a few hours ahead of time for it to really kick in. If you do not, many pets can build up their adrenolin and override the medication and you are back to square one.
The week before and after any holiday that is know for fireworks, such as July 4th, New Years and Memorial Day, keep your pet double safe.
LIMITED TIME OUTSIDE
Keep ALL cats inside, even if they normally go out. Cats that have been scared by fireworks cat run blindly into traffic.
Only bring your pet outside in your yard with a double leash (leash attached to a collar and a leash attached to a harness). Make sure that each leash is secure in your hand, one in each hand. Only bring out for fast bathroom breaks.
If you have a fenced yard, take them out in the fenced yard with a leash. Again make sure leash is secure in your hand. If your dog gets frightened, we do not want them flying over your fence. A frightened dog can scale a fence they have never scaled before!
Walks and outside play can wait, safety comes first.
Many pets feel safer in a Thundershirt. This is a snug body fitting garment that makes a pet feel safe and secure. Many pets do very well with this.
If your neighborhood is a party of fireworks, maybe you and your pet can go to a nice quiet Motel and have a mini vacation.
Or if you know of a boarding facility in a quiet area, maybe that will help. But it will only help if the facility is VERY quiet. If your pet can still hear loud booms, being in a strange environment may not be better.
In advance of any possible noise, close windows and curtains, turn up the radio or TV. Turn on a fan or something that has a constant hum for some added white noise. Snuggle up with your pet in the quietest room of the house and watch a movie.
Counter conditioning for pets who have Obedience Training can be used when you see any fear response in your pet. Immediately, start putting then through their commands, sit, down, stay. Give a treat for each command they do. This will also help get their mind off of the fireworks, etc. This will also help your pet to feel more confident because they know they are doing things they know, it gets their mind off of the loud noises. You can also bring out your dog’s favorite toys.
For cats, bring out the toys. Get them more interesting in having fun then what is going on outside. Again, you are trying to get your cats’ mind off of the loud noises and onto FUN.
WHEN THINGS HAVE PASSED
When the fireworks or thunderstorm has passed, start on a slow routine of getting your pet ready for the next time.
1 – Training
2 – Desensitizing
3 – Counter Conditioning
I do hope that I have given you some ideas that will help you and your pet come to enjoy fireworks, thunder and loud noises. Maybe not the actual event but what you do during the event, like playing, commands, treats, snuggles!!
Happy Pet Owning!!
Author, Dorinne Whynott, Owner of Professional Pet Sitting Etc.
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Dorinne Whynott, is a long time animal professional. She is a successful business owner establishing one of the largest pet sitting companies in New Hampshire since 1990. Click to Read her complete History.
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