Research has shown that dogs have far more sensitive hearing than humans do. The average human can hear up to 20,000 Hertz of sound, while dogs can hear sounds as high as 47,000 to 65,000 Hertz.
Therefore the festive season, with the noise of dhols and drums during Navratri, and firecrackers during Diwali and Christmas, while just irritating for us humans, can be deafening for dogs. So much so that it affects their sensory system.
There's also the ongoing cricket World Cup, which is bound to excite cricket fans in most neighbourhoods to respond to team wins with crackers. The first India versus Pakistan match is on October 14, this Saturday. A match-up this big usually means crackers go off through the game, too. And then there is of course also the wedding baraat, with wedding season starting towards the end of the year.
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Studies show that as many as 50 per cent of dogs are petrified of sudden, loud sounds. They get uncomfortable and scared and some even go in a state of panic – frantically pacing the house, breathing heavily and wanting to run away to escape the madness. My dog Khal, too, is one of them.
Dog trainer and behaviourist Srinivas Jakkani points out that during these festivals, many community and pet dogs meet with accidents. When in a panicked state, they can’t focus on anything else and often come right under speeding vehicles. “For the first half of the year, we usually don’t hear any of these sounds and then suddenly there is an onslaught of dhols, firecrackers, brass bands. It’s very disturbing for dogs, traumatic even,” says Jakkani.
I feel terrible when I see my otherwise playful and confident Khal anxious, nervous and scared during these festivals. I too have come to dread this time of the year. However, I have also realised that my fear and anxiety also rubs onto him and have learned ways to help him instead. Here are a few tips.
1. Pet-parents must keep calm
Dogs are highly receptive to others’ feelings, especially of people they live with, love, and care for. It’s essential that pet parents stay calm when their dog is anxious.
Last year was our first festive season with Khal. We'd never seen him so scared before. It worried us and my husband and I ended up arguing with each other about it. This did not help our dog. This Ganesh Chaturthi, we were better prepared and did not subject Khal to a tense environment at home.
Dog trainer Aakash Shukla also suggested that when Khal is scared and panicking, I do something to first calm him down. I sing, and that has worked.
2. Block out the noise as much as possible
Close your windows, doors and curtains and block the outside noise and lights as much as possible. You can also use sound absorption sheets. If your dog is used to the sounds of the fan, air conditioner and television, turn them on to cancel out the outside noise as much as possible.
3. Create a safe corner
When dogs hide under a bed or a table on hearing firecrackers, they are trying to cope with the stress. Let them be there. You can also try putting them in a crate. “They feel safer in an environment where the external stimuli are blocked or minimised,” says Jakkani. This Ganesh Chaturthi, I made a canopy out of two bedsheets for Khal right beside my bed and placed his bedding inside it. He stayed there through the evening while I worked on the laptop and later watched a movie right beside him.
However, I did not touch him as that would have encouraged any panic-induced behaviour. According to Shukla, it is imperative to restrict the movement of a dog panic-pacing the house as he might end up injuring himself in that state. Plus, pacing induces more panic. The canopy helped immensely. Khal did try to get out of there once or twice on day one, but we cajoled him back in and block any exit routes. We ensured that his canopy was dark and had enough room for air circulation. From the next day, every time the dhols started playing, he would go inside the canopy on his own.
4. Try an anti-anxiety jacket
In Jakkani’s opinion, an anti-anxiety jacket should help pets, too. Originally designed for humans to give them a feeling of being hugged and secure when anxious, Jakkani says he has “seen it help dogs as well”. You can buy one online or make one out of a dupatta with various videos on how to do so online. “Just ensure the fitting is snug and not tight,” adds Jakkani.
5. Anti-anxiety medicines
There is a lot of shame associated with giving your dog calming pills, but there shouldn’t be. If it helps relax your dog, please opt for it but not without consulting your veterinarian. I took a prescription this year for Khal, with his vet suggesting that we give him 7 ml Benadryl (the cough syrup) twice a day. He did this by taking into account his size and weight. She also prescribed a pill on a need basis. The canopy, however, did the trick for us during the dhol-tasha days and we didn't need the medicines.
Regardless, I am going to keep the medicines handy during Navratri, Diwali and Christmas. I won’t hesitate to give him one if he is anxious and scared even inside the canopy, or refuses to enter it.
6. Include sound de-sensitisation in dog training
We didn’t do this with Khal, but I strongly suggest that you do. Introduce your dog to the sounds of thunder, dhols, drums and firecrackers right from the time he is a puppy.
First, play them on low volume on your phone or speakers and eventually increase the volume. Jakkani says that this might help most puppies get used to the sounds in about a month or so.
Adult dogs, however, might need more time. After we realised that Khal was scared of these sounds, we tried to follow the method, but it didn’t work. He is not scared of any sounds coming from our televisions, phones or speakers as I suppose he knows the source of the sound. But sudden noises up in the sky, which he can’t figure out freak him out.
Well hopefully not this year.
Riddhi Doshi is an independent journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.