There are many things that can give a dog the willies – thunder, fireworks and other loud noises being just a handful of the more common spookers. For some people, their dog doesn’t often have to face its fears, so the fear itself isn’t an issue. For others, constant anxiety in their pet can lead to any number of problems – issues with health, refusals to leave the house or go for a walk, jumpiness, furniture mauling or mistrust of strangers and other animals.
It’s a combination of the unfamiliarity with something so large and daunting floating overhead, and the loud, sudden noise of a burner firing up. The latter of these elements is only likely to frighten a dog if you’re standing fairly close – for instance, if you’re attending a balloon festival or watching one launch from your local park. When you think about it, it’s only natural for a dog to be frightened by hot air balloons.
Before reaching an age of around 16 weeks, dogs will respond with strong curiosity to most new environments and objects. However, older dogs will generally treat unknown entities with a degree of caution. When that entity roars like a demon, rears higher than a house and rides the clouds like an eagle coasting on an updraft, perhaps ready to plummet from the sky to snatch its victim from the ground, it’s hardly surprising that a dog would react with a measure of terror.
As the dog’s owner, it’s up to you to help your pet get over its fear.
Above all else, you need to be patient. Don’t get annoyed with your dog when it seems to be unresponsive to your efforts. Just put yourself in its – well, paws.
Firstly, you need to avoid reacting to any extreme degree when your dog is fearful of a balloon. If you’re in your local park and a balloon is getting ready to fly, its globular mass beginning to fill out and its burner belching somewhere behind the sinuous folds of nylon, don’t run or walk briskly away.
If your dog starts tugging at its lead in a bid to distance itself from a perceived threat, it can be tempting to go with the flow and allow your dog to pull you to a safe distance (which could well mean traipsing all the way back to that secluded spot behind the living room couch).
Don’t flee, even for your dog’s sake. Noting a similar reaction in other members of the ‘pack’ – particularly from you, the Alpha Wolf – will only reinforce any negative connotations with which the dog has surrounded the balloon’s image in its mind.
You need to be calm and collected. Your voice must be sonorous and firm, but gentle. Never make too much of a fuss, or your dog might think something is up – that there’s something to be comforted about. Overly petting and reassuring your dog can have just as negative an effect on its mindset as throwing the lead to the wind and crying, ‘Run, boy. Save yourself!’
The idea is to let your dog see that you are in charge and you aren’t afraid. You could try distracting your pet with a ball or chew toy – just be sure not to chuck it in the direction of the hot air balloon, as this could end badly.
If all else fails and your dog is still afraid of the hot air balloon, try calmly walking away – not directly away, but instead angling slowly from the point of fear to further reinforce that there’s nothing wrong.