Photo: Ellen Davidson
If you've dealt with a dog that's fearful of fireworks before, you know that simply telling them to not be afraid isn't going to do the trick. Read these tips for ideas on how to calm your dog's nerves this 4th of July!
Try to insulate dogs from the noises outside. Keep the dog in a safe, enclosed area where they cannot hurt themselves if panicked. Background noise like TV, fans, or white noise can help mask what's going on outside.
In a 2013 open access study, Márta Gácsi and colleagues found that when encountering a threatening stranger, the increase in heart rate was less pronounced when the dog’s owner was present than when the dog encountered the threatening stranger alone. The researchers’ conclusion: "similar to parents of infants, owners can provide a buffer against stress in dogs…" Being there for your dog can help.
What you do while there can also help. Studies from Isabella Merola and colleagues found that the emotions we display can affect how dogs respond to potentially scary things. In their 2012 studies, one of which is open access, dogs encountered an unfamiliar, strange object that could elicit a mild fear response—an electric fan with plastic green ribbons streaming from it. What owners did mattered. Dogs were more likely to approach the unfamiliar object if owners spoke in a happy voice and smiled, seeming to convey, "It’s all good."
While fireworks are not necessarily equivalent to a threatening stranger or a foreign object, these studies highlight that people can serve as a support for their dogs.
It's not about forcing a dog to get comfort from you. If a dog seeks you out, that’s one thing. If not, don’t push it. Comfort is not achieved through force, and there are many other ways to turn a dog’s frown upside down.
What decreases one dog’s fear may not work for the next, which is why we have several strategies!
Anxiety wraps or calming collars can be useful for some dogs. Anxiety wraps work similar to swaddling an infant by applying gentle pressure to your dog’s torso. Calming collars work by emitting pheromones that mimic the natural pheromones emitted by lactating mother dogs to reassure and calm their puppies.
Adaptil is a synthetic pheromone that mimics the pheromone mother dogs emit after giving birth to help their puppies. It has been found to decrease signs of fear in dogs fearful of fireworks.
Food is another resource because it can help change a dog’s emotional state and thereby change the dog’s outward behavior. Stock a treat bag, and feed one piece at a time to your dog throughout the fireworks to counter condition and distract. If your dog is willing, make a game of it and ask them to sit, 'find it', shake hands and other distracting cues. Calming treats can be used to help relax and distract your dog.
Dogs don’t mix well with celebratory booms in the sky, but the good news is they don’t have to go it alone.
How do you plan to help your dog through the bangs and the booms?
By: Julie Hecht, Scientific American