While most people look forward to Diwali with gusto, pet owners fear for their animals. Every year, dogs experience fear and confusion over the loud blasts. Canines have acute hearing and are much more sensitive to sharp noises than humans. When scared by a loud noise, a dog will do all it can to either get comfort or to escape the noise.
If you have a dog that is frightened of firecrackers, here are a few tips to help survive the season from Shirin Merchant - Canine Behaviourist and Founder of Canines Can Care.
When in doubt, a dog will look to his family for a reaction. If you are scared, uneasy or nervous with the sound of firecrackers, it is very likely that your dog will pick up on your subtle signals and perceive the situation to be a threatening one. It can take just one incident for a dog to learn that noises are bad news. If you as his role model stay calm and collected, chances are that he will too.
Dogs in the wild instinctively seek out confining spaces when frightened. If your dog chooses to hide from the noise, under a bed or behind a cupboard, for hours on end, let him. Don’t drag him out in an attempt to comfort him. Instead, draw the curtains, play soothing music or turn on the TV to help drown out the noise. Make sure your dog has free access to his safe area all through the season. Though the safe place approach may work with some dogs, it may not work with all. Some dogs prefer to move and be active when frightened and being confined makes it worse for them. Let your dog choose what comforts him and then go along with his choice.
Many dogs when scared prefer to be left alone. But there are also some dogs that would prefer your company at this time. So if your dog finds comfort with you, then do sit with your dog and pat and calm him down.
A frightened and confused dog can associate the sound of firecrackers with the indoors and may attempt to get out of the house to escape the noise. Do not ignore the fact that this can happen to your dog. Play it safe by attaching an I.D tag to your dog’s collar containing your current phone number and address. If your dog happens to run away, the information on him will greatly increase your chances of getting him back.
If your dog is scared of the noise, speak to your vet about medication that can help calm him down. Avoid giving your dog any over-the-counter or prescription medication without first consulting with your veterinarian. Animals don't respond to drugs the same way people do, a medication that may be safe for humans could be fatal to your dog.
Behaviour modification techniques are often extremely effective in helping a dog that is scared of noises. It involves exposing the dog to the fearful noise at a very low level and slowly increasing it as the dog gets used to it. Eventually the noise is paired with pleasant events in the dog's life. Since it is not just the noise but also the smell and environment contributing to the fear, the desensitising programme is best carried out under the supervision of an experienced canine behaviour counsellor.
If you have a puppy and this is its first Diwali, make sure you start on the right paw.
A young pup is very impressionable and will quickly pick up on the owner's behaviour. Make sure you behave in a calm manner around your pup. When your pup reacts to the sound of the crackers, try distracting him by pulling out a toy and playing a fun game.
If you have a grown up dog who is scared of firecracker noises living with the pup, it is very likely that the pup will ape the older dog's anxious behaviour. It would be wise to separate them for the concerned period of time. In fact, it would be prudent to expose your pup to a dog that is least bothered by the noises.