Help for noise-phobic dogs

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 6/29/08
By: Gail T. Fisher


With July 4th celebrations in a few days, here are some ideas and products that may help your dog deal with loud noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms.
First, please use common sense. If you’re going to the fireworks, leave your dog at home. Even if your dog is fine in crowds and isn’t afraid of loud noise, being at a fireworks display, unable to get away from the boomers is harmful for your dog’s sensitive ears and can create such fear. Plus it’s not as if a dog is excited about seeing fireworks.
Dogs upset by loud noise can injure themselves, so if you know there will be fireworks in your neighborhood, it’s best to stay home with him. Here are some other things that may help (with where to find them in parentheses):
  • Oil of lavender (health food stores). Lavender oil can be mixed with water and sprayed around the room, or spray it on your hands and apply it to your dog’s neck, shoulders chest and forelegs. One of my trainers reports that this is the best approach she’s found for calming her thunder-phobic dog. And it doesn’t have to be done in advance.
  • Aromadog Chill-Out (pet shops and websites), a commercial product blend of chamomile, lavender and marjoram. Spray around the room, or apply some to your dog as with lavender oil.
  • D.A.P. “Comfort Zone™” (pet shops and websites). D.A.P. is “dog appeasement pheromone,” a synthetic equivalent that mimics the smell of a nursing mom to a suckling pup, providing a safe, secure feeling. D.A.P. is sold as a spray, plug-in diffuser, and a collar. Studies (and anecdotal stories) report that it can help lessen a dog’s fear response in a number of anxiety-based circumstances.
  • Melatonin, an over-the-counter hormone (health food stores). Many dog owners report good results, with the limitation that it has to be given in advance. Dr. Linda Aronson, a veterinarian who has researched this subject, recommends three mg. for average to large dogs, six for giant dogs over 100 pounds, and 1.5 mg. for dogs under 30 pounds. Just as with drugs, check with your veterinarian about herb therapies.
  • Bach Rescue Remedy (health food stores). Rescue Remedy comes in both cream and liquid. Just a few drops of the liquid in your dog’s food or water, or directly in your dog’s mouth are all it takes. You can rub the cream on the inside of your dog’s ear flap, if that’s an easier delivery system.
  • Calming CDs. One we’ve used in our kennel and daycare is “Canine Lullabies,” but there are others. We’ve been astonished at the calming effects of these CDs on most dogs. The downside is the “earworm” sticking in your head, so you may want to save this music for when you’re not home. Classical music may help, too.
  • Drug therapy. I’m not big on drug therapy, but when a dog is in a panic, is destructive or in danger of injuring himself, it’s worth considering. Talk to your veterinarian about Clomicalm™ or Zanac™, and learn about possible side effects, pros and cons. Medication may help, but there are drawbacks.
And finally, consider your own behavior. It is natural to want to comfort and soothe our dogs’ anxiety – to stroke and talk lovingly when they’re upset. Some dogs benefit from physical contact, but it’s important to be calm and unemotional. Otherwise you may be communicating your own distress to your dog, which reinforces your dog’s anxiety.
No matter what, don’t get angry or impatient with your dog. Her behavior is not her fault – it’s emotional and fear-based. Your anger or impatience can only make it worse.
The best approach is to lighten the emotional atmosphere with laughter, communicating lack of concern. Don’t feel like laughing? Then just try to relax around the dog and demonstrate calmness and unconcern. It may also help to play the radio or TV on to cover the noise, especially if the fireworks or storm are in the distance.
Happy Independence Day!

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2008. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.