July 4, 2020

I should have written this weeks ago. Last night was filled with the booms of fireworks from cities and individuals celebrating Independence Day. Fortunately, our two dogs and the one who was visiting were unconcerned with the noise.

But that’s not the case with many dogs. One look at Facebook or local sights like “Next Door” were littered last night with posts from distraught families asking what they could do or, worse yet, asking for help finding their dog who had bolted and disappeared in panic into the night.

I have heard that July 4th is the busiest day of the year for shelters (something I’ve not personally confirmed - but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out its true).

Of course, not all dogs were afraid last night. Some don’t care about the noise at all.

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For dogs who don't have an issue with fireworks:

  • Congratulations!

  • Did you realize that dogs can develop sensitivity to these sorts of things over time?

  • To tip the scales in your favor, turn every boom into a treat party. Boom! Cheese! Boom! Chicken! Boom! Cheese!

The goal is to solidify their nonchalance and perhaps even turn it into anticipation of something good.

For those dogs who are bothered by fireworks:

  • All is not lost!

  • Dogs can be often desensitized and counter-conditioned to these sounds. You can find fireworks sounds online (check You-Tube), play them at low volumes and offer great treats after each one (being careful about the order there - boom THEN treats appear, not the other way around). Over time, and only if the dog appears 100% comfortable, slowly increase the volume while playing this game.

  • There are meds which you can get from your vet to help with this. Some require that you start a day or so before the scary day - so plan ahead. There's even one that's SPECIFICALLY for sound issues like fireworks (behavior meds keep making advances even for our pets!). Please don't think of medication as a last resort - it can be very effective and truly the kind thing to offer to help our pets.

  • I know of people who board their dogs with people who live out in the country away from the worst of the noises. Others use white-noise machine, crank up the stereo/tv, move to basements or interior rooms to reduce the noise the dog can hear.

  • And, of course, you can get help from sufficiently qualified trainers. Note: not all trainers have adequate knowledge about classical conditioning techniques to be helpful.

Since noise sensitivity is largely genetic, this could be almost entirely eradicated by selective breeding practices. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t something enough breeders consider important enough to address. And, of course, even if every breeder did the right thing, we’d still have thousands of dogs already alive with these fears - and they deserve empathy and help.

I should have written this weeks ago - and for that oversight, I apologize. But you can help your dogs get ready for New Years and next July 4th, 2020 by starting now.

Tim Steele