From thunder and doorbells, to carolers and company, dogs can really lose it during the holidays. They are generally sensitive to their owners' feelings and moods, as well as changes in routine, which can cause them stress and anxiety. Luckily, there are some tested methods that can help calm our canine friends.
Loud and unexpected noises during the holidays, whether fireworks or party music, is arguably the most common trigger for dogs. According to the American Kennel Club book "Train Your Puppy Right," dogs' sense of hearing is much stronger than that of humans; they hear four times the range of sounds humans do, meaning they can hear higher pitches. With this sensitivity, any sharp, surprising sounds can be very unnerving. The Humane Society of the United States recommends creating a safe place for your dog to retreat to when it hears frightening noises. If it goes somewhere in particular, try to give it full access to that place. Alternatively, create a dark, small hidey-hole that is shielded from the sound as much as possible. Place a fan or radio near the spot to further block out the sound. You might create the spot ahead of time and feed your dog in that location to build positive association. Most importantly, "this must be a safe location from their perspective, not yours."
Many veterinarians and dog specialists recommend specific supplements or pet clothing to calm your furry friends. In her 2012 article on the PETA website, Michelle Kretzer writes that melatonin is the best natural calming supplement for dogs. It helps humans with insomnia by instilling a calm and sleepy mood, and regulating sleep cycles. She suggests giving your dog 1 to 4 milligrams (depending on body weight), preferably ahead of the stressful time, if possible, so there is time for it to kick in. The ThunderShirt is a snug garment that applies a gentle, constant pressure on a dog's torso. Experts say it produces a similar effect of swaddling a baby, offering comfort during stressful situations. Visit your local veterinarian office or pet store, or simply shop online, to find the right size for your pupper.
Cesar Milan, the dog whisperer on National Geographic, believes it is ideal to train your dog to be comfortable with sounds in advance. Though it's a simple process, it can take up to three to four months, so you'll have to plan ahead for the holiday season. Play a recorded sound of fireworks at an increasingly higher volume before the dog eats, before play and affection, and before a walk. "This will condition him by association to hear the sound and interpret it as something good," Milan says. While this method can be tried over a week or two, because of the short time span, it should be used in conjunction with other solutions.
Milan reminds owners of the power of communicating with your pet as it experiences stress and anxiety. Humans communicate with words, whereas dogs communicate with energy. They look to their pack leader -- their owner -- for cues on how to react. Not making a big deal about a noise or situation sends the calming message that there's nothing to worry about, and your dog can become less concerned. He recommends taking your dog on a long walk before an event to expend its energy and put it into a calm state. And throughout the event, be aware of the signals you're sending to your pet.
Understanding why dogs become frightened helps owners predict, resolve and even avoid stressful situations. When it's all said and done, your dog will be grateful for the special consideration.