4 Ways to Relieve & Reduce Your Dog’s Fears
Sound phobias for dogs are often found in the sky; loud claps of thunder and exploding fireworks are effects that cause most of our canine companions to experience anywhere from a mild to moderate amount of stress. For others, these sounds may induce severe bouts of fear, anxiety and a variety of related behaviors. Whether your dog experiences storm anxiety, fear of fireworks (or both), here are some solutions that may help your dog replace these feelings with a greater sense of comfort, calmness and security.*
First things first: Forget what your friend said at the dog park! It’s perfectly OK to comfort your dog when he or she is afraid. Veterinary behaviorists want you to know that petting your dog will NOT reinforce their fear (Click here to learn more). Soft, slow petting and a soothing voice may help your dog a little, or maybe not at all, but either way, it will not make them more fearful! Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
Have you heard of the Thundershirt?
Also known as an “anxiety-wrap,” this body wrap applies firm, constant pressure to your dog’s body, which is believed to mimic the same physiological effects of swaddling a baby: a sense of comfort and safety. Most of my clients have reported varying degrees of relaxation, though a few have also reported no change. Thankfully, there is a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so skeptics can try it with confidence. I have personally used the Thundershirt with my Border Collie, Maggie, and have seen a significant reduction in her thunderstorm anxiety. She used to hide under my office desk and shake all over, but with her Thundershirt on, we can play indoor games of fetch or curl up together on the couch for some vanilla ice cream! More on this later…
Consider D.A.P. for your D.O.G.!
The Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) is secreted by female dogs that comfort and reassure their young puppies. These “appeasement” pheromones can also produce the same calming effect for some adult dogs. D.A.P. is available as a plug-in diffuser and a spray; try plugging in a diffuser where your dog tends to hang out and rest the most. If storms are imminent, you can increase the amount of pheromone by using the spray on a bandanna and loosely tying it around your dog’s neck. Don’t worry, humans cannot smell the pheromone., so you can maximize the benefits by providing your dog a constant, steady intake of D.A.P. with the diffuser.
Rescue Remedy, oh how we love thee!
Many dogs and their owners swear by this product! It’s available in sprays, creams and drops. We recommend using a tincture to drop it into your dog’s water bowl. Rescue Remedy (http://www.nelsonsnaturalworld.com/en-us/us/our-brands/rescue-remedy/our-products/the-original-rescue-remedy/#rpets) contains five individual flower remedies that were originally developed by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930’s–over 70 years later, both people and pets are enjoying the calming effects of this natural product.
Counter-Conditioning: The best way to achieve long-term relief of sound phobia!
Simply put, counter-conditioning means training your dog to change the way s/he thinks and feels towards something. Often, this means giving it a new meaning altogether. How cool would it be to teach your dog that the loud booms mean that it’s time to eat a ridiculously delicious treat? Well, as it turns out, that is exactly what I’ve done with my Maggie, teaching her that “booms” meant “you get to lick some vanilla ice cream”
To counter condition a thunder clap or exploding firework, simply follow these 2 steps:
1. The undesirable sound must be heard first, then…
2. The high-value reward is presented immediately after!
Back to the ice cream-Using a pint of Haagen Daz Five – Vanilla flavor, we sit together on the couch and watch a show together. As soon as the thunder sounds, I take the lid off and offer her 10 seconds of licking, or more if the thunder continues for several seconds. Now, whenever storms begin, Maggie follows me to the freezer, ready to enjoy her “boom cream!”
For best results, don’t wait for the real thing to happen. Using sound effects (many of which are easily found on Youtube) you can practice giving treats with the volume down low, then steadily increase it as their confidence grows!
If your dog is very play-oriented, consider interacting with them at the first sign of their anxiety. You can redirect their mind from fear to fun by starting their favorite game or inventing a new one that uses every bit of your dog’s focus and energy. By the time the sky quiets down, your dog will be readily laying down for a good night’s sleep!
*There is no single remedy that will work for every dog. We believe these are tools that can reduce and relieve fear phobias, not cure them. As with any holistic remedies, it is recommended that you gradually acclimate your dog to any new program in order to maximize the potential benefits. If you have any questions about this or any of the products, please let us know and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
Post written by: Caitlin Lane, CPDT-KA