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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dogs & Fireworks?

They Don't Mix.

Did you know that dogs can detect sounds in the frequency range of approximately 40 - 60,000 Hz (varies with different breeds) and humans can only detect frequencies within a range of 20 - 23,000 Hz?

Dogs also have 18 muscles in their ears that allow them to tilt, rotate and scan for sounds. We humans use their ears to  help in training for example ultrasonic dog whistles - these whistles emit a sound at a frequency too high for humans to hear but well within the range of a dogs ears.

Keeping this in mind, with ears 10 times more sensitive than humans sounds that seem loud to people often tend to emit high frequency tones that can scare away dogs. Also the loud unpredictable bangs can cause a fearful/stressful reaction. Even for short periods of time this can be a terrifying event for your canine companion.

Tex-Anna's reaction to fireworks. We originally didn't know the neighbor had set them off.
How do you know if your dog is stressed?
  • Wide (bugged out) eyes
  • Excessive salivation
  • Frantic movement or pacing
  • Whining
  • Excessive barking
  • Hiding in places they don't normally go
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Inability to relax
What do you do?
One thing that is hard for many dog owners to understand is that dogs are not people, for example; they cannot be soothed out of situations the way you would attempt to do with a human child. Dogs react based on your energy (they can share feelings and are very sensitive to your emotions), if you are calm and relaxed it will help your dog to relax because they will see that their pack leader is unfazed by the situation that is causing them stress - but this means that you already have to be the established pack leader.

Dogs also respond to positives and negatives, one way to think of this is that at all times you are either giving approval or disapproval for their behaviors.

Here is an example of what I mean:
  • A dog that is begging 
    • You say, "no". A few minutes later you again say, "no". A few minutes later you give the dog a scrap from your plate.
      • Your behavior just reinforced begging.
        • The dog learned that persistence and begging pays off in human table scraps.
    • You say, "no". A few minutes later you again say, "no" and remove the dog from the situation. Every time they return and beg they are sent away with a "no".
      • You just showed disapproval for begging.
        • The dog learns that begging results in being sent away - the begging stops over time.
What does this mean for soothing? 

Like humans children, dogs react to both their own emotions and your demeanor. Some dogs become clingy, act out, or shut down in stressful situations. For some dogs, touch and contact can relieve anxiety, stress, and fear. This does not work for all dogs.
You cannot help your dog if you are tense, stressed, or excusing their bad behavior away.
If you are tense and reacting to their bad behavior and anxiety you will be feeding it, and the cycle of stress and anxiousness can escalate into a big problem.

Our former foster Tex-Anna could not be soothed, any attempt to soothe escalated her fear and anxiety. The best thing for her was to just 

Just like you would with a human child, step away from the situation, take a few deep breaths, take the lead, and be patient. If you are speaking in soothing tones, and have a calm demeanor, you can influence their behavior in a positive manner.

Photo Attribution: Darren Teagles

Their are better things you can do to help your dog with their fears but in this blog I wanted to specifically address fireworks and our 4th of July celebration.

These techniques can however be used in other stressful situations where your dog may be scared.

The Matter of Fireworks..
Just like people dogs can show different levels of fear, phobias are typically characterized by intense fear reactions that interfere with their normal functioning. If your dog has problems with fireworks there are a few things that you can do to help keep them safe and provide comfort.
  • Do not take your dog to a fireworks show.
    • During the 3rd - 6th of July their is a 30-60% increase in lost pets due to fireworks. The 4th of July however tends to be the most stressful. According the the American Humane Association July 5th is the busiest day of the year for shelters "as companion animals that fled in fright the night before are found miles from their homes, disoriented and exhausted. Anxious families often find themselves searching the streets and shelters looking for a treasured family member whose fear drove him to jump a high fence or break his leash or chain."
    • Make sure your dog has proper I.D. - I'm a big fan of micro-chipping.
  • Keep your dog inside - in a panic situation dogs will do whatever they think necessary to try and escape the fear.
    • Basements or windowless bathrooms are a good and quiet place to put your canine for the evening as the noise won't be so loud there.
    • Some dogs are also fearful of flashing lights so be aware and keep the drapes closed!
  • Crating is the perfect safe environment for your dog - only if they are accustomed to crating, now is not the time to start training.
  • Consider taking your dog to a friend or family members home that is fireworks free.
  • Try distracting them with their favorite treat or indoor chew toy (no playing outside as they could attempt to flee).
  • Natural Calming medications - speak to your vet before giving your animal any sort of natural  or over-the-counter medication.
  • Thundershirt - this shirt is intended to provide a gentle calm pressure that calms the dogs nervous system.
  • Natural pheromone based products to assist in stressful situations.
Photo Attribution: Fake Plastic Alice via Flickr

And if worse comes to worse you can always talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of sedating your dog for the evening.

Tips to Remember in Dealing with Fear:
  • Never punish your dog for their fear.
    • Punishment will only make the fear worse.
  • Remain as Calm as possible.
    • Dogs are extremely good at reading body language and emotions. If you are concerned or tense it will only add to their fear. Be calm and assertive - remember you are the pack leader!
  • Pretend it's no big deal.
    • If you aren't worried, why should they be? Your dog needs to see your example that it isn't a big deal.
  • Counter Condition.
    • Not all dogs however can be counter conditioned to fireworks.
Practice, Practice, Practice

More Reading:
Dog Breed Info     Fireworks and Dogs     Fear of Noise   Puppy Development Stages   Fear Stages

This post is part of the Training Tips Tuesday blog hop, hosted by DOGthusiast and Tiffany's Diamond Dogs.


  1. Wonderful tips on dealing with the stress of the Fourth of July for your canine companion! Thank you for joining our Blog Hop!

  2. These are such great tips. It's so true about reinforcing fear behavior, and the table scrap example is a fantastic way to explain it. There are so many "shy dog" classes that seem to sort of reinforce the fear through treat rewards and similar. I love "treat and retreat" games (dog has to move away and feel more comfortable to get rewarded instead of face the fears), and jogging - you yourself are distracted so you can't react to what they're being fearful of, they're distracted, and desensitization occurs.

    Great, timely post for all those fireworks!!


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