A special guest post by Prof Nicholas Dodman, DOGTV’s Chief Scientist
For most of us July 4th means fireworks and hotdogs. Both of these are fun for us, but the former can be a real problem for some noise-sensitive dogs.
Dogs with fireworks phobia may positively shake with fear, anxiously drool saliva, pace, pant and try to hide as the sound of fireworks exploding and crackling begins. Rule number one is that if your dog is scared of fireworks, don’t allow him to be exposed to them. If you live in a location where a major fireworks display is slated for the 4th of July, such as Boston or New York City, see if a friend or relative who lives far way can look after your dog until the festivities are over.
Failing that option, you must provide a “safe place” for your dog to go when the fireworks begin.
A basement is ideal because most homes are semi-subterranean and have small windows that can be blocked off. Alternatively, a relatively sound-proof room with heavy curtains may do the trick. That way the sound and sight of fireworks is eliminated or attenuated. In this safe place, play soothing music—try playing CDs such as Through a Dog’s Ear or Canine Lullabies—at a reasonably high level to mask any muffled sounds that may penetrate the relative quiet of your dog’s new den.
DOGTV may help, too, as the relaxation phase of DOG TV includes calming bio-acoustically engineered music. Think of the safe place as a bunker in which your dog can hunker down until the event passes, serving a similar function to tornado bunkers in the tornado belt of the Midwest.
You need to escort your dog to the safe place at first until he learns its value. In time, he may go there automatically. Provide food, water, toys and entertainment for you dog while he is in the safe place to distract and occupy him.
Some people think pressure vests, like the Anxiety Wrap or Thunder Shirt, may help too, by providing a swaddling effect. For the long run, it is eminently possible to desensitize dogs to their fear of fireworks. A number of CDs of scary sounds, including the sound of fireworks, are available in stores or through the Internet. Play recordings of the sound of fireworks at first at a very low level, rewarding your dog with special food treats for remaining calm. Once he is comfortable at, say, volume 1 on your CD player, increase the volume a notch to, say, volume 2.
With this stepwise approach to introducing him to the scary sound of fireworks at ever increasing levels he should eventually be able to tolerate the real thing.
Finally, some dogs are so scared that medication is the only solution to deal with their phobiaadequately. I have had success with medications ranging from melatonin (the hormone of sleep) to clonidine and Xanax. It’s whatever works best for that dog so trial treatments are helpful ahead of time to get the right medication at the right dose.
We know that you are going to enjoy the 4th of July but we need to make sure that your pooch does not experience the worst day of his year while you are reveling. With the approach above you should be able to ensure just that.
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE EVERYONE!
Nicholas Dodman BVMS, DVA, DACVA, DACVB
Program Director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University, MA