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  • Sandra King, Master Dog Trainer

Sounds of Summer - Is Your Dog Ready?

Fireworks are beautiful to us, but can be a source of terror for your dog

Now is the perfect time to start getting your dog used to the many sounds of summer. If you have a new puppy, or even an older dog that has not had positive exposure around some of the dramatic sounds we associate with summer, you can do a lot to get your dog acclimatized to startling sounds like thunder, fireworks, and even lawn mowers.

Please don't throw you dog in the midst of extreme noises and hope for the best. Even the loud music, as well as a large crowd, at an open air music festival can be overwhelming for most dogs.

You may be wondering how to go about exposing your pet to these sounds in a safe and non-threatening way. Start as early as possible, but even old dogs can over-come past fears when exposing them correctly.

It's always best to consult a qualified dog trainer and/or behaviour specialist prior to attempting to fix your dog's behaviour on your own.

Use Recordings

You can find pretty much anything on YouTube. Choose the sound you want and play it at a very low level to start with so that it is just ambient noise. You can even move your computer (or your dog) to a room that is further away if it is showing signs of fear or anxiety. Dogs hear far better than we do - don't worry if you can barely hear the sounds, your dog still can, so go ahead turn down the volume some more, or create even more distance between the sound and your dog.

With the sound playing, do something fun with your dog - play with a squeaky toy, have your dog eat some treats, or a meal, or simply hang out and act as if nothing is happening and life is good.

If your dog is afraid, DO NOT coddle your dog, pet it, pick it up, or tell it "It's okay" this will only increase your dog's fear or anxiety. If you can create more distance, or lower the volume, do that instead and let your dog be. Act normally. If your dog wants to hide, let it be for a few minutes and then turn off the sound.

Try again the next day but at an even lower level, or with more distance. You can also increase the fun factor BEFORE you turn on the scary sound. For example, be playing outside and introduce the sound very quietly while your dog is already playing. I would recommend using your phone for this rather than a computer since it is more portable and it wouldn't seem as obvious to your dog that you were going to play the sound.

Once your dog is accepting the sound, gradually increase the volume. How quickly you will be able to do this will depend on your dog.

Once your dog is oblivious to the sound at a high level, randomly play it at different levels and jack up the volume occasionally, especially if you are working on acclimatizing your dog to fireworks and/or thunder. Other sounds that you should do this with are traffic sounds, construction sounds, etc.

Use Real Life

If your dog is afraid of traffic, go to a park near a busy road, but keep your dog at a distance while you walk, play, do some training, etc. Distance and positive experiences around the scary things are the best way to get your dog used to different stimuli. Feed some extra yummy treats when your dog is not reacting to the stimuli and keep your sessions short and sweet, always ending on a good note.

For thunderstorms, go out BEFORE the storm rolls in. You can head out for a quick walk, or play in the yard, as soon as you hear thunder in the distance, or you feel a shift in the atmosphere - the wind picks up, the sky darkens, etc. Just make sure you are safely back home and inside before the storm starts.

Dogs can sense atmospheric changes before we can, so don't be surprised if your dog is showing signs of anxiety long before the start of a storm.

Thunder shirts have worked for many dogs, and others may need something from the vet to help them through their anxiety.

If your dog has not been acclimatized to certain stimuli and you are at home, allow your dog to retreat to a ‘safe place’ like a basement and play music or turn on the tv until the noise is over.

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