July 4th fireworks a reminder of need to protect dogs from noise
In retrospect, I should have re-posted this article a couple of weeks ago. A few days ago, I got the following email from a reader that reminded me this information needs to be disseminated every year.
"Dear Gail: How can pet owners help to condition their pets, especially dogs and cats, to cope with or tolerate thunder and fireworks - if such a thing is possible? Crawling under beds or into the bathtub seems to be their norm."
A few years ago, I got a letter from a reader who asked me to remind people about dogs and fireworks. She wrote, "I was shocked by the number of families that brought a dog to the Memorial Day fireworks. The poor things were trying to get away from the loud bangs, but they couldn't. Some of them were terrified. It was really sad."
Fortunately, our dogs, Larry and Kochi, aren't bothered by loud noises, even with the severe thunderstorms we've had in the past week, which often affects dogs the same as fireworks. Despite it being past both Memorial Day and Independence Day, it is never a bad time to reprise the column I wrote in response to her request:
My Bearded Collies didn't love loud noise, although they weren't as frightened as many other dogs. Fireworks, thunderstorms, cars backfiring, even the crash of a dropped pot are torture to some. A dog that is "sound sensitive" reacts in a fearful manner to loud noises. Some sound-sensitive dogs try to hide, others want to climb into their owner's lap and still others try to flee, to escape. If you have a sound-sensitive dog, you know the agony of his fear.
Sound sensitivity is also called "noise shy" or "gun shy." It can be either congenital or environmental. Some noise-shy dogs are born that way, while others might have undergone a frightening experience connected with a loud noise that thereafter causes them to associate the noise with the fear-producing event.
Regardless of whether a dog is born with sensitivity to loud noises or experiences something upsetting that it then associates with noise, there are some do's and don'ts to make your dog more comfortable during a noisy event. Even dogs that don't react fearfully to loud noises should be protected as much as possible from the potentially painful effects of noise, especially those as predictable as fireworks on a holiday. Don't take your dog to the fireworks. Even if your dog is not noise sensitive beforehand, experiencing the explosive noise of fireworks can make him so. As painful as the loud booms are to you, your dog's ears are far more sensitive. A dog doesn't understand either the noise or what it's for and truly suffers fear and pain in this situation.
Do plan ahead before the fireworks start so you aren't rushing around at the first loud sound trying to figure out what to do with the dog. It's too late at that point, and your frantic behavior will only increase your dog's anxiety.
Do get an "anti-anxiety wrap" such as a Thunder Shirt for your dog. They help a lot of dogs. I spray my dog's Thunder Shirt with lavender essential oil - that's calming, too.
Do try to create a light atmosphere. If you're alone with your dog, try playing a game, such as fetch or tug. With a dog that is only mildly upset, your light attitude or the relief of playing a game might override the fear. This tactic won't help dogs that are extremely upset and fearful.
Don't get upset about your dog or your dog's behavior. Your attitude will affect your dog.
Do play dog-soothing music. If the fireworks are a reasonable distance from your home, you might be able to protect your dog by keeping him in a room away from the noise and covering the noise. There are a number of dog-soothing CDs that truly help.
Do get your dog used to being in a dog kennel or crate long before the noisy event. The vast majority of dogs that are afraid of noises prefer to be in small places when they are frightened, such as a closet, under a bed, behind a chair or even in the bathtub. A dog crate is a comforting thing to a dog that is used to it. When a dog has its own place, at the first sign of anxiety, it can go into its safe kennel and stay there until the storm has passed.
Do think about alternatives if you live close to fireworks or in a neighborhood where individuals set off fireworks. Consider boarding your dog for a day or two before the celebration until well after it is over. Inform the boarding kennel operator that your dog is sensitive to noises, and he or she will do their best to protect your dog from noise.
Don't give human tranquilizers to a dog. Many people have had success giving their dog 6 to 9 milligrams of Melatonin (a calming hormone that many use as a sleep aid). A few drops of Rescue Remedy (available at health food stores) can also help. When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.