Many dogs suffer from anxiety related to events that are unique to the warmer summer months: thunderstorms and fireworks. The degree of stress and the pet’s response varies considerably from one to the next. A few will be only slightly anxious – they may pant a little more and be a little restless. At the other extreme are some very sensitive individuals who can get so upset that they will put themselves in real danger, be very destructive, or both. Either way it’s important to realize that these events can be very upsetting for our pets, and there are things that we can do to help them through.
The best solution for most anxiety problems in dogs is a behavior modification program. This is something best done with expert guidance and needs to be carried out at a time of year when these issues are not likely to occur. With the first predictable fireworks event on May 19, it would be wise to be prepared to provide some immediate relief to those dogs suffering from these phobias. Here are some tips that may help you and your pet through.
• Neither punish nor reassure your pet during episodes. Any scolding or other punishment only reinforces fear, and any fussing or attempts to reassure him or her will likely be seen as a “reward” for the behaviour.
• Have a room in the house, ideally the quietest and darkest, to practise training your dog to settle and focus, using treats and rewards. At the time of the storm or fireworks retreat to this area and continue training. By setting up a positive experience and using it as a distraction, your dog should feel more comfortable.
• Consider inviting a dog that gets along well with yours – but has no noise phobias – over for the night. Having a playful distraction who does not show any anxiety in the same situation can be very helpful.
In addition to these efforts it is worth considering some of the safe, non-pharmaceutical products available to help dogs through times of anxiety. I find two very helpful and have received very positive feedback about both.
One is a pheromone-based calming product called Adaptil (adaptil.com). It uses a synthetic analogue of a pheromone produced by nursing mothers that has a calming effect on dogs of any age. It is available in a spray, a diffuser (similar to a plug-in scent diffuser, except the pheromone has no odour at all), and a collar that can be worn during times of stress. The other is a product called “The Thundershirt” (thundershirt.com). This is a wrap-around coat that fits very snugly on your pet and provides a sense of security through gentle constant pressure.
Both of these products have been shown to have real benefit to pets in these situations and are well worth considering.
Dr. Nigel Skinner is a veterinarian practicing in the Beach – kewbeachvets.com