I Tried Rescue Remedy To Help My Dogs Stay Calm, and Here's What Happened
My dogs are terrified of loud noises. Fireworks and thunderstorms cause them to run and hide in the farthest corner of the basement. And who could blame them? Unlike humans, dogs don't understand that those big 'booms' mean the humans are celebrating something fun or that a storm is passing over. They just know that there is Something Very Loud They Can't Explain (and more than likely, the something loud and unexplainable coming from outside could be a threat).
Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, RBT and Daily Paws' health and behavior editor, explains dogs' fear of loud noises as part of their evolutionary instincts—a trait that's helped them survive over time. "Dogs have excellent hearing and have evolved to be sensitive to novel noises. When they hear something scary or strange, their instincts tell them to get away and find safety."
I've tried several tricks to help keep my dogs calm when their fear of thunder and 4th of July fireworks sends them running for cover. CBD supplements didn't do much good because the pups just aren't interested in eating treats when they're so scared. And my attempt to make a DIY-version of a ThunderShirt was ineffective too, since they were too fearful to leave their kennel so I could put it on. But one thing that has helped them ride out loud noises is a supplement called Rescue Remedy.
I was skeptical that it would help, as I tend to be with anything labeled homeopathic (for humans or animals, for that matter). But after a bad thunderstorm left my usually fearless, Joan of Arc warrior princess of a coonhound in a shivering mess on the basement floor, I decided it was worth a shot. I picked up a bottle from our local pet supply shop at the insistence of our dog sitter, who uses it to help pups with separation anxiety.
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The next time it stormed, I gave her a few drops of the tincture as soon as she headed to her safe place downstairs. I sat with her to see if the solution—a mixture of natural herbal supplements including flowers like Star of Bethlehem, rock rose, cherry plum, impatiens, and clematis—would have any effect. Within a half hour or so, she'd completely relaxed. I stayed by her side to see if there'd be any adverse effects, like grogginess or worse. But she woke up when I asked her to and was alert and responsive, and she curled up and went to sleep when I left her alone.
The solution seemed to help and has become a go-to in our house when something loud threatens from the sky. But Bergeland points out that there are more effective ways to help address the kinds of underlying issues that create fearful dogs to begin with. So while Rescue Remedy does seem to help calm my pups in a pinch, Bergeland recommends consulting with a veterinary behaviorist for a better long-term solution.
"No remedy is going to perfectly solve an issue, and often you only end up treating the symptoms and not the underlying concern, so it's important to also be sure you are offering your dog additional help," she says. Bergeland suggests the following for pet parents who are dealing with fearful pups:
- Create a safe space for them—this can be in the form of a crate or cozy nook in the house where they feel protected and secure.
- Utilize counterconditioning and desensitization techniques. Note that this is not an overnight fix and takes dedication and consistency to correctly incorporate into your routine. A vet behaviorist or certified animal behavior consultant can teach you how to use these techniques to address issues like those unexplainable scary experiences that your dog has come to fear, like thunder and fireworks.
- Create a positive reinforcement training program that helps to build confidence and coping skills in your dog.
I've also taken my extra at-home time during the pandemic to set up a designated "doggy safe zone" for the pups to cozy up in when they get scared. In addition to their kennel and some soft blankets, I added a speaker that pipes in soothing tunes to help drown out the sounds from outside and a Himalayan salt lamp. I'm not convinced that the lamp has any of the 'healing properties' that purify the air or balance the energy in the room as proponents claim, but it does give off a soft warm glow that makes the basement feel more like a meditation studio and less like a disorganized mess (maybe more for my benefit than the dogs). But it's a nice touch, and I'm happy to sit with them nearby while we ride out the storms together.
The author's dogs on a storm-free day of romping in the yard: