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Fear of Thunderstorms, Fireworks and Loud Noises

Fear of thunder and other loud noises may be instinctive in many animals, driving them to seek immediate shelter. In their attempts to escape to apparent safety, pets may damage property and injure themselves. Dogs, in particular, may scratch, chew, jump over or even throw themselves through barriers to reach a place of refuge. In response to a sudden and loud noise, the startled pet may injure anyone trying to hold it back. Pets can be trained to not panic during thunderstorms by exposing the pet to recordings of the noise at low volume. Through a process called progressive desensitization, a pet slowly learns a more desirable response to thunderstorms and other loud noises. Commercial recordings of thunderstorms are available through music stores. The desensitization process must be gradual to be effective.
Begin by reviewing basic obedience skills, such as "sit/stay" and "down/stay." Train your pet to sit or lie down in a secure place, such as in a comfortable corner of the living room or on a rug in your bedroom. Once your pet responds readily to commands in this quiet situation, you are ready to begin playing the recording of the thunderstorm or other noise, at very low volume. Begin at a volume that is barely audible to you, remembering that your dog's ears are far more sensitive than normal human hearing. While the recording is playing, review the obedience skills at the special location you have chosen. This will teach your dog to feel safe in a secure place during a storm and it may become less anxious about other threatening noises. Give generous praise and calm reassurance. You may wish to give a small food treat as the volume of the recording is increased in each training session. Each training session should initially be brief, perhaps less than 5 minutes. Eventually, you can increase each session up to 30 minutes long. The recording may then be played independently of actual training sessions. For example, you can play the recording during your pet's regular mealtimes or during playtime. Also, gradually increase the volume of the recording. Medication to relieve your pet's anxiety may be helpful during the desensitization procedure.
Using sensitive recording equipment and high-quality tapes, you can record other noises that frighten your pet, such as fireworks, gunshots or automobile backfiring. The recordings may then be used as described above.