Q: Sadie is terrified of fireworks. We close our windows, but that doesn't help. Not only do we live close to our neighborhood's fireworks display, but kids also set off their own fireworks in the days leading up to the Fourth.. How can I help my dog? P.M., Deerfield, IL.
Q: Our German Shepherd looks like the most intimidating dog in the world when we walk down the street, but she's actually afraid of her own shadow. She jumps at any noise, and the problem is getting worse. Fireworks are her biggest fear. Last year, on the Fourth, she even screamed; it broke our hearts. What can we do? F.J., via cyberspace
Q: Why are so many dogs afraid of fireworks? I know fireworks are loud, but they only go off once a year. I admit I don't have a dog; I'm just an interested party. S.T., Las Vegas, NV
A: Most animals, including humans, jump at sudden unexplained loud noises. It's an adaptive behavior. Our cavemen ancestors had a better shot at surviving if they feared and avoided inexplicable loud sounds, like sabre-toothed tigers.
Human babies are also bothered by fireworks because no one can explain to them that what they're hearing is a sound to be celebrated, not feared. The same is true for dogs. Many cats also fear fireworks.
It's not that dogs aren't patriotic - keep in mind that fireworks sound louder to dogs because their hearing is keener than ours. Also, dogs can hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies and a greater distance than people. They may respond to the local fireworks display we hear, and potentially even a distant celebrations we can't even detect.
Some dogs are mildly fearful of fireworks, perhaps pacing, whining and seeking out a place to hide. For dogs who find their own hiding places, let them be. Others can be directed to a quiet spot, such as the basement. Turning on the radio or playing a CD specifically created to help sooth rattled canine nerves can also help. Examples include:
--Victoria Stilwell's Noise Phobia CD: Stilwell is a dog trainer, and host of Animal Planet's, "It's Me or the Dog."
--"Through A Dog's Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion," by Joshua Leeds and Dr. Susan Wagner (2008 by Sounds True). This is a book with CD.
You can also distract a fearful dog with games and/or toys stuffed with treats like low fat/low salt peanut butter. Here are some other helpful tools to relieve anxiety:
1. Pheromonal therapy: Adaptil is an analog of the naturally-occurring calming pheromone found in the milk of mother dogs. One format is a plug-in, which diffuses Adaptil into the room, and the other is a collar.
2. Anxtiane: A chewable that contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that acts neurologically to help keep dogs calm.
3. Thundershirt (and similar products): While meant to calm dogs during storms, this vest, which fits snuggly around a dog, can help with any anxiety-related issue. It may take a week or more to get a dog accustomed to wearing one of these shirts.
For dogs who go totally out of their minds with terror, the best and most humane solution is pharmacological intervention. (I'm NOT referring to a sedative, which makes a dog drowsy but doesn't affect a feeling of sheer terror.) Don't wait until fireworks start to administer the drug. Once the drug takes the edge off, you can employ the above products and behavioral techniques to further diminish stress.
©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency
Also, here's a video with advice about dogs and fireworks.
Tags: ADAPTIL, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Anxitane, Decoding Your Dog, dogs, fearful dogs, fireworks, L-theanine, noise phobia, patriotic dogs, Steve Dale, Steve Dale archives, Through a Dog's Ear, Thundershirt, thunderstorm anxiety, Victoria Stilwell