It’s common for pets to be frightened of firecrackers or other loud sounds around Diwali time. These types of fears may develop even though your pet has no previous traumatic experiences associated with the sound. Many fear-related problems can be successfully resolved. However, if left untreated, your dog’s fearful behaviour will probably get worse.
The most common behaviour problems associated with fear of loud noises are destruction and escaping. One must understand the fact that dogs/cats have a much stronger hearing power than us and what we perceive as loud, to a dog’s/cat’s ears it may be unbearable. Also the fact that dogs are sensitive as well to the vibration loud noises cause, so they may get startled as well from feeling both noise and vibration. Put them both together and you have a phobia in the making that will grow in future.
Here are some tips for this Diwali that I have found successful in dealing with my sound sensitive dogs/cats.
- Make sure your dog is as exhausted as possible. A tired dog is a calmer dog. For some dogs, just the activity or physical exertion associated with one of these behaviours may be an outlet for their anxiety. Dogs that are afraid of firecrackers may become afraid of the children who have the firecrackers or may become afraid to go to the area where they usually hear the noise.
- Be prepared with medication ahead of time. Call your vet today, tell them you have a sound sensitive pet and ask them for recommendations on medications to help ease your pet’s anxiety. Getting a prescription for tranquillizer is handy.
- Put your pet in a room where its calm with minimum windows and doors. But remember, this must be a safe location from your pet’s perspective, not yours. Notice where he/she goes, or tries to go, when he’s/she’s frightened, and if at all possible, give him/her access to that place. Feed him/her in that location. He/She must be able to come and go from this location freely. Dogs/cats have been known to try to escape by jumping through windows!
- Keep the windows and curtains drawn during the festivities. You want your pet to be as stimulus free as possible.
- Make your own noise to drown out the sound of the fireworks. Play soothing music in the room so that it produces a fairly decent amount of background noise.
- Associate fireworks noise with positive things. If every time your pet hears a firework, let him/her have its favourite treats in the world, your pet might not feel so scared.
- Try to keep your pet entertained. Encourage him/her to engage in any activity that captures his/her attention and distracts him/her from behaving fearfully. If you´re having a party, invite a few people that the pet is familiar with.
- Behaviour modification techniques are often successful in reducing fears and phobias. The appropriate techniques are called “counter-conditioning” and “desensitization.” This means to condition or teach your dog to respond in non-fearful ways to sounds and other stimuli that previously frightened her. This must be done very gradually. Begin by exposing him/her to an intensity level of noise that doesn’t frighten her and pair it with something pleasant, like a treat or a fun game. Gradually increase the volume as you continue to offer her something pleasant. Through this process, he/she will come to associate good things with the previously feared sound.
- Another advice is to carefully accustom the dog to have cotton in the ears.
- Keep fire crackers out of reach of children as well as pets. Even licking and sometimes sniffing may cause toxicity to your pet.
- First aid for burn injuries should be kept handy.
What you must NOT do:
- If at the first sign of fear you pick up your pet, pet him/her, cuddle him/her and baby talk, your pet will only learn one valuable lesson, that it is ok to be scared and that you are approving his/her fearful state of mind. So don’t reassure your pet.
- Don’t punish your pet for being afraid. Punishment will only make him/her more fearful.
- Don’t try to force your pet to experience or be close to the sound that frightens him/her. Making him/her stay close to a group of adults or children who are lighting firecrackers will only make her more afraid, and could cause her to become aggressive in an attempt to escape from the situation.
- Obedience classes won’t make your dog less afraid of thunder or other noises, but could help boost its general confidence.
Wish you a very Happy Diwali and a prosperous new year ahead.