Firework / Sound phobias are a big problem for many pet owners and their pets. Understanding the condition is important if you want to improve or prevent this issue. Firstly, it's important to understand what a phobia is. A phobia is an irrational extreme fear of something. These are learned behaviours and without treatment will normally get worse with repeated exposure to the fear inducing event.
Because phobias are learned behaviours there normally is an initiating event. In the first few months of life puppies are finding out what is normal and how they should respond. We call this period the socialisation period. It doesn't have a specific cut off time but the older a puppy gets before experiencing a novel event the more suspicious that puppy is likely to be of that event. For example if a puppy is born into a house next to a busy railway line then train noises are totally normal as they happen every day, multiple times a day. But imagine an adult dog is moved to a home next to a trainline - the first time the house shakes with the noise it is likely to be nervous and may even find it terrifying. Even as young as 8 weeks of age, puppies can be easily frightened of new things so they should be introduced very gently to them. Loud noises such as fireworks should be introduced gently and gradually increased at a level the puppy can cope with. This can be easily acheived using the free materials available on the Dogs Trust Sounds Scary page:
If your dog is already phobic to loud sounds , including fireworks, it is really important that you try and minimise their distress, otherwise it will get worse and worse and be much harder to treat. Severely phobic animals may become so distressed that they may become destructive or even injure themselves.
To best prepare for a 'bad night' please visit the Dog's Trust website and download the booklet on the SOUNDS SCARY website and read pages 18 & 19.
We are often asked for sedatives to treat these animals. This is not an appropriate treatment for phobias and will not prevent them from getting worse. We do have a range of medications to help with the anxiety but they must be used with all the other appropriate measures in the booklet mentioned above to have the best chance of having a meaningful impact. Please book an appointment to come and talk to us if you feel your pet does need some medical assistance to get through this stressful period.
Once we are through the firework season (normally after New Year), it is strongly advised to download and use the SOUNDS SCARY materials from the Dogs Trust to retrain your pet to not be as frightened in the future. There is no quick fix and the more time and effort you put into training the happier you and your pet will be.