Fireworks and Fido Don't Always Mix07/01/11
FRIDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Most people look forward to
watching fireworks illuminate the night sky on the Fourth of
But for many family pets, the celebratory pops, booms and bangs
trigger a full-blown panic attack. Some dogs are so terrified, they
dig out of backyards, jump through glass windows, or scale walls to
escape from the sound. Others pant, pace, tremble, whine and hide
under beds or behind furniture.
San Francisco-based veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist
Dr. Sophia Yin said some dogs are more fearful because they didn't
have positive experiences with those types of sounds early in life
during a critical learning period, which takes place between 3
weeks and 3 months of age.
"That's the ideal time for dogs to be exposed to the many different types of things they're going to see and hear in real life," said Yin, author of the e-book Perfect Puppy in Seven Days. "After that, their default setting becomes more of being afraid of things that they didn't learn were OK."
How many dogs freak out over the sound of firecrackers is
unknown, but every year shelters nationwide report taking in large
numbers of spooked family pets. That's why making sure a pet's ID
tag and microchip are up-to-date is also vital as this holiday
Noise phobia strikes dogs of all ages, breeds and mixes. Cases
severe enough to prompt owners to seek professional help occur in
up to 20 percent of dogs, said Bonnie Beaver, a veterinary
behaviorist at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Dogs afraid of one noise, such as fireworks, are more likely to
develop or experience fears of other sounds as well, she said. "A
poll suggested the number one noise fear in dogs is thunderstorms
followed by fireworks, vacuum cleaners and guns, in that order,"
Over time, with repeated exposure, the problem usually gets
worse so animal behaviorists recommend acclimating dogs to the
How? Yin suggested while softly playing a CD of fireworks,
putting the dog in a "happy state" by quickly tossing him several
treats then teaching him a new game or trick. Keep the daily
training sessions short, just 5 or 10 minutes. With each new
session, gradually increase the CD's volume. Eventually the dog
learns the scary sound isn't such a big deal because good things
are happening to him.
"You're changing what's going on in his mind," explained Yin. "He's engaging in behaviors that take him away from his fear."
Ideally, owners should start desensitizing their dogs to the
sound of fireworks a month or two ahead of time. However, even if
there's only a day or two left before the holiday, it's still worth
trying, she said.
Owners with extremely fearful dogs should consider asking their
veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication. Even though the
tranquilizer acepromazine is frequently prescribed by
veterinarians, Yin warned the drug does not decrease a dog's fear,
and may even make matters worse by increasing sound
Other calming strategies for nervous pets this Independence Day
- Playing a CD of harp music that's arranged to promote
progressive peace and relaxation in animals.
- Using a diffuser filled with lavender and chamomile oil. A 2005
study in the journal
Applied Animal Behavior Science found the aroma helped
shelter dogs rest and relax.
- Putting an anti-anxiety T-shirt or vest on your dog. The
specially designed clothing reportedly applies a gentle yet calming
pressure around the dog's mid-section.
- Buying earmuffs for your dog. This sound blocker was designed
to protect the sensitive hearing of dogs traveling on private
- Sending your pet overnight to a friend's or family member's
house located in a firework-free zone.
- Turning your home's basement, which naturally blocks sound,
into a temporary sanctuary. No basement? Put your pet in a room
farthest from the celebration with a cushy bed and plenty of toys.
Close the blinds to block out flashes of light.
Some owners try comforting their frazzled pooches by holding or
petting them, but researchers at Pennsylvania State University
found it had no impact in lowering stress levels in storm-phobic
dogs. What did work was the presence of a canine buddy or two
around the house.
That's what calms Azella, a normally confident 8-year-old husky
mix who panics when she hears gun shots, thunder, fireworks or
high-pitched beeping from a smoke detector.
"If she could jump up in my arms like Shaggy and Scooby -- she would," said Azella's owner, Christina Bournias of St. Clair Shores, Mich. "In fact, she's come close."
Bournias has tried soothing her jittery pet with massages, kind
words and big hugs. But what's helped Azella most is the company of
a canine friend named Devlin. The husky's best buddy helps keep her
calm as the explosions go off in the neighborhood for days,
sometimes weeks, before and after Independence Day.
"His innocence and playfulness is seemingly therapeutic," she said.
There's more on dog psychology and behavior at the
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