By Emily Buchanan
However confident and well adjusted a dog might be, there’s no telling how they’ll react to fireworks. A recent study suggested that as many as 49% of dogs have a life-affecting fear of loud noises, with fireworks, thunder and gunshot sounds being the most problematic. Whilst this not only causes distress for the phobic creature in question, it can signal untold issues for the owner.
After all, nobody likes to see their pet with their tail between their legs, especially if there’s nothing they can do to soften the noises. When scared, the look of vulnerability in a dog’s eyes is upsetting and, without sufficient care, dogs can put themselves and others at serious risk of injury.
Last year, animal welfare centres were inundated with calls from concerned neighbours and dog owners alike, particularly during firework season. Jenny Barnes from Lake County, Indiana, heartbreakingly lost her seven-year-old Alsatian, Brody, when he bolted from the sound of a firework and ran into oncoming traffic. She says of the incident, “He was on a lead but, you know, the noise scared him so much that he just ran for it and pulled the lead from my hand. He was a big dog, much stronger than me. I couldn’t catch up to him. He was running for his life.” Tragically, stories like these aren’t uncommon and since fireworks can be bought in local stores by the carload, private firework displays are more and more common. So too are the dangers of improper usage.
Noise sensitivity is a genuine problem and one that is increasingly being addressed by dog behavioural specialists. Emily Buchanan of Animed Direct says that “Many pet owners dread the beginning of the autumn because it marks the run up to the festive season, which goes hand-in-hand with firework usage. However, there are lots of inexpensive ways to treat distressed animals; all that’s required is a little forethought.” Indeed, if a pet owner plans ahead and settles on a plan of action regarding their phobic friend, a lot can be done to ease their trauma. Here are a few bright ideas to get you started:
In the weeks approaching a known firework display it pays to invest in a CD called Sounds Scary! This soundtrack has been designed by vets and is extremely effective. In fact, in an independent scientific study, dogs treated with Sounds Scary! showed consistent and significant improvements and after 8 weeks of treatment, 93% of pets owners said they would use the CDs for other pets. It contains a comprehensive guide and is incredibly simple, working on the positive association principle i.e. by gently introducing firework sounds whilst the dog is engaging in something they enjoy (eating, playing, cuddling) they will begin to associate the stimulus with positivity.
Interestingly, in a recent study by Blackwell et al, it was suggested that Autumn-Winter born dogs have a higher tolerance to fireworks, presumably due to the benefit of early exposure during puppyhood. Therefore, the use of recorded sounds is a great method for problem prevention.
Most dogs have their favourite snooze spots or a corner of the house that belongs to them. It’s important that during fireworks they have access to this place and that you make it as comfortable and calming as possible. A good idea is to build a “safe zone” where they can retreat from the source of the sound. Find a large crate or cardboard box and insulate it with thick, noise-snuffing blankets (as pictured). Then, put an item of clothing or a toy inside so that it smells familiar. To teach your dog that this new home is safe, feed them in there and leave a bowl of water if you can, they’ll recognise these as comfort signals. However, do not force them to enter the den. This will only cause more stress. If they prefer a different spot or they hide behind the sofa, don’t try to coax or drag them out. Instead, try to do your best to keep them calm and comfortable, showing them that there is nothing to worry about through open expressions and soothing tones.
Purchasing an Adaptil pheromone diffuser is a particularly successful method for dogs that suffer severe noise sensitivity. Adaptil (or Feliway for cats) is plugged into a socket and then gradually produces a pheromone found in lactating female dogs. The pheromone is designed to reassure newborn puppies and it’s been proven to have a similar effect on adult dogs. However, you must start using it 2 weeks prior to the firework display, whether that’s Guy Fawkes (in the UK), July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Whatever you do, don’t scold your dog for any adverse behaviour they display during fireworks. Their reaction is an instinctive response to danger, how are they to know that the loud explosions and flashing lights are a harmless form of entertainment?
Does your dog suffer from a firework phobia? What do you do to ease their suffering? All opinions welcome.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Animed Direct, a leading seller of animal medication to pet owners in the UK.
Graphics courtesy of Animed Direct.