June 23, 2010
Boom Boom, Woof Woof: Controlling a Dog’s Fear of Fireworks
Fireworks combine awe-inspiring visuals with pulse-pounding sound to create dramatic, can’t miss effects. Yet while we “ooh” and “aah” at these colorful explosions, our animals are often more frightened than enlightened.
In this week’s post, DogWatch has compiled information from dog experts across the country to help you prepare your dog for this year’s Independence Day fireworks shows. We have also looked into another related summer-themed fear common among pets – thunderstorms – and will share those tips with you as well. Your dog may never love fireworks as much as you do, but you can still help him or her stay calm and happy on this most exciting day of the summer.
We have broken down our discussion of this topic into three sections:
“Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan recommends several ways you can train your dog at home in preparation for fireworks season. He suggests that you play an audio recording of fireworks during one of the dog’s favorite activities, such as playing with toys or eating a meal. Gradually increase the volume of the recording over several days. This will help the dog get used to the sound and associate it with an enjoyable, stress-free activity.
Dog training classes are also available to help condition your dog for fireworks and other loud noises. Ask your local animal shelter or pet store if they are aware of any such noise-sensitivity training classes in your area.
This preparation is particularly important if you are planning to bring your dog with you to any outdoor fireworks displays. While some experts (including those from The Humane Society of the United States) warn against this practice, others believe that it may be acceptable for some dogs provided they have the proper training and temperament.
Finally, if your dog is particularly anxious around loud noises and if training has not helped calm him or her down, you might consider consulting a vet before the holiday. If your dog is in good health, your vet may prescribe a sedative to help him or her cope with the noise. The FDA also recently approved a non-sedative treatment, an oral gel called Sileo, to help dogs who suffer from “noise aversion.” (Always consult your vet before trying a new treatment on your pet, and make careful note of the correct dosage.)
Milan also suggests taking your dog for a longer-than-usual walk before the fireworks start. This will help “expend your dog’s excess energy first” and “put her in a calm state” before the celebration commences.
Pop, Pop, Pop
When the big day arrives, here are several steps you can take to help ensure your dog will be safe once the first explosion goes off. If you are outdoors, make sure you monitor your dog throughout the display, and keep a firm grip on the leash at all times. Also, be ready to move your dog in the car or indoors if they show signs of panic.
If your dog is staying at home, make sure they are secure and cannot escape outdoors. This is serious: July 5th is the busiest day for shelter intakes in the United States, due to dogs escaping their homes or running from their owners due to fear of fireworks. Tragically, there have also been stories of dogs that escaped in panic during a fireworks celebration nearby and were killed by a passing car.
You should also consider crating your dog to reduce the likelihood of panic-induced destructive behavior.
After the Smoke Clears
Before getting back to your celebrations, make sure that your dog calms down after the fireworks grand finale. If you are outside, experts recommend that you take them in your car or indoors, and replace the sudden silence with a more calming sound, like the radio or your voice.
If your dog is inside, check on him or her as soon as possible to make sure he is safe. Experts do not recommend “coddling” your dog, as it may in fact reinforce their scared reactions. Instead, distract him or her with a toy and playing a favorite game. Remain calm and confident at all times to encourage the same behavior in your dog.
Additional Tips: Thunderstorms
Dog owners know that fireworks, while perhaps the loudest of the summer traditions, are not the only scary time for dogs in the summer. Thunderstorms also cause anxiety in dogs.
According to a survey published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, German Shepherds, Border Collies and other herding breeds typically exhibit the most anxiety during these storms, but the reasons for this increased susceptibility is unclear.
Again, gradual training is the best option for treating your dog’s thunderphobia. Slowly introducing the sounds and sights of thunderstorms and rewarding positive reactions to the stimuli help the dog grow more accustomed to the storms. (For more tips, read this article.) If your dog suffers from severe phobia that cannot be controlled by training, then consult your vet about other options, including medication.
Remember as you prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July that the day can be a very stressful one for your dog. Add these steps to your list of to-dos for the holiday. And by all means, don’t miss the fireworks! With a little planning ahead, you can fully enjoy them, and protect your dog at the same time.