July can be a very difficult month for many dogs. The 4th of July is a festive day for people but it can be terrifying for dogs. In many cases the loud booms begin a week before the holiday and continue days after. For dogs that are afraid of fireworks, the two weeks around the 4th can be extremely traumatic. However, fireworks are not the only sounds that frighten dogs. Any loud or strange sound can cause anxiety in a dog. My Jack Russell, Scout, is afraid of the house fire alarm. Although it does not go off often, even the chirp that indicates the battery is low will send her into a panic. Dogs can be afraid of any sound, but it’s usually the loud sudden sounds that will worry dogs. Some examples include garbage trucks, a pot crashing on the ground, a vacuum or lawn mower.
If your dog is only afraid of fireworks, you may consider giving them anti-anxiety medications for when the fireworks are heard. However, if your dog is afraid of something that happens on a regular basis (like the garbage truck), you may consider discussing long term anti-anxiety medications for your dog with your veterinarian. Whether you decide to use medication or not, you can help your dog by desensitizing them to the stimulus that is causing the anxiety. By desensitizing your dog to a stimulus, you are teaching them that the sound is not a threat and there is no need to worry about it. Desensitization can be very beneficial but it must be done at a slow pace and cannot be rushed.
How to desensitize your dog to a sound
Let’s say your dog is afraid of pitched sounds like a home fire alarm. One way to help them is to gradually expose them to the sound while they are experiencing something they love. For example, you could record the sound or find a similar sound online then play it for your dog while she was eating a highly desired treat (like hot dogs or peanut butter). You would need to turn the volume low enough that your dog was not scared and barely noticed it. Before turning on the sound, you would start giving the treat. Once your dog was eating the treat, you would turn on the sound for a short time (10-15 seconds), then immediately after turning off the sound you would stop feeding the treat. The idea is that you are teaching the dog to associate something positive to the sound. As your dog is more comfortable, you would gradually increase the volume of the sound. Ideally, this would need to be practiced everyday with multiple short sessions (3 sessions lasting 2-3 minutes). The volume would only increase when your dog is relaxed when the sound is played. With time, your dog may not only be calm during the sound, they could begin to salivate when they hear the sound.