Have you asked yourself why dogs (and cats) are afraid of loud noises like fireworks? Plenty of dogs are frightened of loud noises, though most of them don’t mind them, noted Hilarie Erb of the American Kennel Club (AKC), a resource of breed, health, and training information for dogs. However, helping those who are scared of loud noises might be a challenge for owners.
Perception of Dog and Cat Owners Regarding Fear of Fireworks (2011)
AR Dale and colleagues of academic publisher Taylor & Francis Online distributed a questionnaire to dog and cat owners via the Auckland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animas (SPCA) Animals Voice magazine and 25 veterinary clinics. 1,007 valid questionnaires were returned, which represented 3,527 animals.
Of those, 46% were identified by their owners as fearful of fireworks. With regard to the behaviors done by owners, 71% and 85% of dogs and cats hid from firework displays, respectively. The animals also shivered/trembled (74% versus 40%), escaped/ran away (27% versus 46%), vocalized (27% versus 13%), urinated/defecated (5% versus 3%), cowered (47% versus 39%), and exhibited destructive behavior (6% versus 2%).
Distraction measures done by the owners were keeping the animals inside (92.1%), comforting it (79.3%), keeping the curtains/blinds shut (71.3%), using music or television (58.0%), and confining the animal to one room (23.6%), while 1.0% did not attempt any distraction measures. 71% of respondents said they did not attend public firework displays. Of those who did, 99% attended without their animals. 76% said they did not purchase fireworks and of those, 43% only bought sparklers.
Among 1,001 respondents, 83.4% supported a ban on the private sale of fireworks, 9.7% were undecided, and 6.8% did not support it. Among respondents that did not own an animal fearful of animals, 70% of them supported a ban. With regard to injuries, 53 animals were injured due to fireworks. Although information on the cause of the injury was provided for only 38 animals, 21% of injuries were caused by accidental misuse, 13% by deliberate misuse, and 66% were an indirect result of fireworks (ex: attempted avoidance of fireworks, causing a traffic accident).
Information regarding treatment was obtained for 34 animals and of those, 32% required veterinary attention, 15% resulted in death, 12% required veterinary surgery, and 3% were to euthanasia. Only 38% of the animals did not require veterinary attention. The authors concluded that a number of cats and dogs showed fear of fireworks, but few owners sought treatment for their pets. Recognizing the severity of fear was higher for dogs than cats, which might be due to ease of identification.
Veterinarians are encouraged to recognize and treat conditions like noise phobias or refer the animal to a veterinary referral behavioral service. The latter would work on addressing welfare issues and optimizing successful management, Dale and colleagues wrote.
What Makes Dogs Fearful of Loud Noises?
The most common behaviors associated with fear of loud noises are destruction and escaping, stated the Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s animal protection organization. Your dog tries to reduce its fear when it becomes frightened, so they may try to escape to an area where the sounds of thunder of fireworks are less muffled.
However, if your dog feels less frightened by leaving the yard or going to a certain area in your house, then the escape or destructive behavior is reinforced as it is a way to reduce its fear. For some dogs, the physical exertion or the act of engaging in activities associated with one of the aforementioned behaviors may be used as an outlet to help ease anxiety.
Sadly, escaping or exhibiting destructive behaviors can be a problem for you as it could also cause physical injury to your pet dog. Moreover, it is also possible for your dog to associate a loud nose with other things within their environment. For instance, if your dog is afraid of thunder, it may also become scared of dark clouds, the wind, or flashes of light— which often occurs before a thunderclap. If your dog is fearful of fireworks, it may become fearful of kids who have played with firecrackers or may not want to go into the backyard if that is usually the place where they hear fireworks.
How Can I Make My Dog Less Fearful of Loud Noises?
1. Provide A Safe Space
Observe which noises your dog is most afraid of. Try to see where it goes upon hearing it. If it wants to enter your house, opt to install a dog door. If your dog wants to hide under your bed, consider giving access to your bedroom. Note that the “safe place” method may be effective for some dogs. Some canines like to move and stay active when frightened, meaning “hiding out” will not be that helpful in easing their fear.
2. Distract It With A Game
You can play tag or fetch or practice some tricks/obedience skills with your dog. Don’t forget to reward it for its efforts in focusing on you. If it can’t focus, stop the game or activity. Avoid creating a negative association between the games and behaviors your dog likes and loud noises. This occurs when you still push through with playing or practicing with your dog.
3. Condition Your Puppy to Get Used to Loud Noises
It’s possible to condition older dogs, but it will take months before they overcome their fear of loud noises. You can condition your puppy by having someone drop a book as you reward and play with it. It’s normal if your pooch is startled. Continue giving it treats and your dog will learn that the noise is not something to be worried about. Gradually, make the book drop louder as your pet becomes less affected by the noise.
4. Speak to A Veterinarian
Medication for reducing your pooch’s anxiety levels may be available in your vet clinic. Avoid administering your dog with over-the-counter or prescription medication without consulting your vet. Remember that animals don’t respond to medications the same way as humans do, so a medication that may be safe for you may be fatal to your pet canine. Although drug therapy may not be enough to overcome your dog’s fears and phobias permanently, it may need a combination of behavior modification and medication in extreme cases.
Dogs and cats exhibit certain behaviors when they are frightened of loud noises. Such behaviors include vocalizing, hiding, and cowering. To help reduce your dog’s fear of loud noises, you can distract it with a game and provide it with a safe haven in your house. If all else fails, it’s time to consult a veterinarian.