Calming pets through life’s loud booms

July 16, 2018

Ash, like most other dogs and people, has his own sweet quirks to life. And he hates thunderstorms and fireworks.

There isn’t much our three-year-old shepherd mix, Ash, fears. He isn’t scared of other dogs, moving cars, or an occasional falling anvil. If a tiger charged, he’d splay his paws while wagging his tail. If an armed robber broke in, Ash would likely bring him a sock. Much like his owner, Ash avoids conflict when at all possible. Instead he prefers to lull away these hot summer days away by loading his beard with creek water, then promptly resting his chin on my knee. It’s an effective, albeit gross, means to cool down.

There are only two things Ash is truly afraid of. The first is thunder. The second is fireworks. July has to be his most hated month. Most every dog I’ve ever owned has had similar issues. Only one, a terrier named Chewie, was fearless almost to a fault. Once, while we were camping, a teen tossed a lit firecracker that landed right next to our sleeping pooch. Chewie barely lifted his head at the noise, and promptly went right back to sleep.

Years back, I tried something odd with a storm-frightened dog. At the time, I was sitting on the porch with my dogs when a storm started to brew. When the thunder rumbled, I gave my dog a nudge, and said in a playful voice, “Get it!“He furiously barked at the thunder. It stopped. “Good boy,” I said. “You did it.”

More thunder, more barking. Again, the thunder stopped. Yeah, yeah. I know, but he didn’t. He believed his barking chased it away. Instead of being frightened, he was soon hopping and woofing at each fresh crack of thunder. He seemed to forget to be scared. However, this did not work with Ash. He’s too smart for such nonsense.

“Get it, Ash!” I said as the thunder boomed. Ash disappeared. We found him inside, barricading the doors with heavy furniture.

The neighborhood we live in is quiet and made up of mature folks, mostly 50 and up. I hadn’t anticipated rogue fireworks the way younger areas seem to experience every year. However, a 20-something year old recently moved in a few months back. He must’ve spent a few grand on his Reign Terror on Terriers Campaign. Between his fireworks and the on-and-off thunder, our poor dog turned into a complete melting down mess.

Desperate for something to soothe Ash, I looked online and found how putting a tiny dab of peppermint oil on the back of his paws could help. It said the dog will lick off the oil, which has calming properties. The process of licking helps a dog to become distracted and calm.

I found a bottle of peppermint oil in my spice cabinet, and got ready to dribble some on Ash’s paw. Don stopped me by asking “Are you sure that’s safe?”

“What’s the danger?” I asked. “That his breath will be fresh?”

I went back online and researched. The ASPCA does warn that large quantities can cause gastrointestinal irritation in dogs, but the risk appears to be small. What follows are a few other recommendations I wanted to share for those with storm-and boom-fearing dogs.

• Try taking your dog for an extra long walk prior to fireworks or predicted thunderstorms, since a tired dog is naturally less stressed.

• Feeding a little more than usual shortly before the loud noises begin can also help, as a full stomach tends to make them sleepy and relaxed.

• Consider providing them with a safe, dark place with music playing or a fan running.

• Make sure your pet has been micro-chipped or has an I.D. tag in case he bolts off and gets lost.

• Never, ever take a pet to a fireworks display, or force them to go outside during a thunderstorm. Even if you believe it will help them develop an immunity to their fear. It never does.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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