Why Some Dogs Really Hate Fireworks And What You Can Do About It


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This post comes from Do You Believe In Dog, a blog of letters between canine scientists Julie Hecht and Mia Cobb.Hi Julie,

I hope you have had a lovely Christmas, we certainly did! The sun has been shining and we’ve enjoyed seeing our friends and family over the past few days.

I’ve got my eye on New Year’s Eve now that Christmas has passed, but not because I’m planning a big night out. It’s all to do with fireworks.

My two dogs demonstrate very different reactions to fireworks. One used to default into a shaking ball and tuck herself away into a corner somewhere (usually under my desk or next to my bed).

The other prefers to charge around, barking at the sky as though the sound is an intruder and will continue racing and barking until the noise stops.

I’m sure that in his mind, he is convinced that he (once again) successfully saved us ALL by scaring off the weird sky-noises. To his credit – it works every time. Bark long enough and the noises do go away!

Over the years, we’ve developed strategies to help them both cope better with less anxiety and fear in these situations. Most of the time, these strategies work (or maybe they are just going deaf as they get older?!).

However, lots of dogs have a really rough time on New Year’s Eve.

When I worked in a shelter, it was by far our busiest 24 hour period of the entire year. One year, we had more dogs enter the shelter than we physically had room to kennel (on average, we had 5-10 dogs admitted per day; on NYE, we could receive 100+!).

They would end up in offices and leashed to anchor points in various locations. It was also a peak period for the associated vet clinic in treating emergencies, generally dogs hit by cars. Other dogs needed injured paws treated after running panicked along rough roads. Fortunately most dogs we reclaimed by their owners, but sadly, some were not so lucky and never made it home again.

Research conducted by the University of Bristol (UK) in 2005, showed that nearly half of the owners surveyed reported their dogs were frightened of loud noises. Of these dogs,firework were reported (in 83% of dogs) to cause fearful behaviours more than any other loud noise (e.g. thunderstorms). These figures are consistent with a later study conducted in New Zealand, published in 2010.

Interestingly, This study suggested a link between the time of year dogs were born and fearful behaviour to loud noises (i.e. if they were likely to have heard fireworks when puppies, they were reportedly less likely to show a fearful response).

Most owners of dogs exhibiting fear behaviour to loud noises report they were unaware that professional help (from animal behaviourists or their vet) was available to assist in helping their dog, or had not pursued such help.

Several types of treatment have been researched with various levels of success reported:

  • homeopathic remedies (was not shown to be significantly effective);
  • dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) (has been shown to help);
  • desensitisation/counter-conditioning CDs (has been shown to help); and vet-only dispensed medication, such as clomipramine (has been shown to help)

Some of these treatments can be used in conjunction with each other. If you have any friends facing their first New Year’s Eve with a new pet dog, it might be worth warning them that their dog might be one of the many that are sensitive to loud noises like fireworks.

The RSPCA and ASPCA have some extremely helpful resources and tips to help dogs cope better.RSPCA Victoria also have a great set of information that gives advice based on whether you will be home or not — it’s even available in a handy printout.

Tell your friends!

I don’t mind fireworks, but I’m keeping very conscious of the fact my dogs don’t. Wishing you a fabulous close to 2012 and and exciting start to 2013!