Your Pet and Fireworks
Jul 01, 2009 06:17 PDT
As the first bottle rocket goes off, your dog is suddenly missing in
action, and you're likely to find him in the far corner of the darkest
closet or under the bed. Even if your dog is one of the so-called
meanest breeds, he may sit trembling on your lap or at your feet when
fireworks are around.
Fear of fireworks and other loud noises is not uncommon in pets. In the
animal world, fear is a normal response to a threatening situation or
aversive stimulus and is designed to protect the animal from harm. A
phobia is a persistent excessive and irrational fear response. Fears and
phobias can develop at any age and in any breed.
Fears, in general, can develop after a single frightening event or they
can arise gradually over time. They are reinforced if the stimulus
presentation is frequent. Dogs that are afraid of noise usually do not
learn to tolerate the fear-inducing sounds.
In fact, they often become more fearful with each exposure and the fear
often generalizes to include other similar sounds. For example, dogs
that start out with thunder phobia may eventually become fearful of rain
A fearful dog may freeze, pace, pant, tremble, salivate, try to escape,
hide, or bark at the fear-inducing noise. In severe cases, dogs may even
injure themselves in their attempts to escape.
A complete physical examination by a veterinarian is important, not only
to rule out concurrent medical problems that may exacerbate your dog's
fear, but also to verify that your dog is healthy. You may also consider
consulting with a behaviorist.
In many cases of noise phobia the diagnosis is obvious. However, if the
noises occur when you are away, you may come home to discover
destruction, urination, or defecation. Audio or videotape recordings can
be useful in these situations to determine what triggers the behavior
Treatment may be as simple as bringing your dog indoors, turning on the
radio/television/fan/air conditioner ("white noise"), or providing a
comfortable hiding place or "safe place."
If your dog's signs are more severe, a program using
counter-conditioning and desensitization may be helpful. This technique
involves replicating the noise by means of a tape recording and then
exposing your relaxed dog to the noise at low volume. You can then
increase the volume gradually, taking care not to cause your dog to
become fearful at any stage. A veterinarian or behaviorist can help you
design an appropriate program.
Your dog's veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist may also recommend
If your dog's fear is mild and the noise is infrequent, these simple
techniques may be sufficient. However, don't try to reassure your dog
with petting or soothing words and extra attention, as this approach can
sometimes exacerbate the problem by reinforcing your dog's fearful
response. Also, dogs are sensitive to the moods of the people in their
lives and may be influenced by the way you react to the noise.
Try to anticipate your dog's possible exposure to noises and avoid such
exposure, if at all possible. Talk to your pet in a light, happy tone of
voice that sends a message that the fireworks are no big deal. For most
people, however, leaving their phobic dog at home while they attend the
firework display is probably the best course of action.
Have a Safe July 4th Holiday
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