Fireworks and Other Loud Noises

As I write this on July 1st in the US, there is a lot of discussion about helping your dog handle fireworks. If you are very lucky, your dog is not phased by fireworks. But personally, I am sometimes startled when they go off and I know to expect it. If you are reading this at the start of fireworks season in your area it is probably already too late for this year. Pre-planning and counter conditioning are the best way to handle fear and startle from loud noises. It is a year round endeavour, not something to just think about at Independence Day and New Years. (Or whenever fireworks are common in your area.)

In my house, any unexpected loud noise is followed by happy talk and treats. I think of it as a treat party, because that way I'm focused on the fun, not "Ugh, I have to deal with this again." My fun attitude carries over to my dog. After 2 years of this, Max is still scared by some loud noises, particularly fireworks that are too close, but with many of them, he is well aware that it is treat time and makes sure I know it.

We also use medication. Max is a nervous Chihuahua mix, and we are still working on many of the things that scare him. Medication keeps him from getting too upset to be able to learn to handle scary things. This year we had to change his acute anxiety medication because he had learned to associate the feeling of being on the medication with needing to calm himself and was licking his paws excessively. Paw licking is very comforting to him, but once he licks his paws raw, it becomes another stressor. If you use acute anxiety medication, it is important to combine it with training (counter conditioning) if at all possible. You want the fear to get better not worse. It is also important to use acute anxiety medication early, so that your dog doesn't have a chance to get really worked up. You may not be able to predict all loud noises, but I know when people are likely to be setting off fireworks and the schedule of the swim meets at the pool by my house (starter pistol.)

Don't use acepromazine (commonly called ACE) on your dog as an acute anxiety medication - at least not without great care and with another medication. It keeps your dog from being able to react, but it doesn't calm them down. Being unable to move and having bad things happen is many people's worst nightmare and certainly your dogs!

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