Animal IQ

Dogs Are More Afraid of Fireworks Than Gunshots, Thunderstorms, or Traffic

Summer is a great time to be a dog — they get to run in the park, go swimming, and enjoy the sunshine. But with frequent thunderstorms and occasions for fireworks, it's also possibly the worst. Most dogs are scared senseless of fireworks, and a 2015 study shows just how much. But don't fret, dog owners: there are lots of ways to help them chill.

Boom, Boom, Boom

For the study, which was published in a 2015 issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Norwegian researchers surveyed 5,000 dog owners about their pets' sensitivity to noise. They asked about four different noise categories: heavy traffic, thunderstorms, fireworks, and gunshots. Twenty-one percent of dogs showed "strong or very strong signs of being fearful" during fireworks, which made fireworks the most fearful sound in the survey. Only 14 percent said gunshots spooked their pooches, and 10 percent of dogs got scared by thunderstorms.

Other studies have seen even higher rates of firework phobias. A 2010 study in New Zealand found that 46 percent of pets (including cats!) were afraid of fireworks. In the United States, the day after Independence Day is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters taking in pets that escaped their homes in a panic. "It's very serious," animal behavior professor Dr. Melissa Bain told The New York Times. "It's a true panic disorder with a complete flight response." So what's a worried dog owner to do?

Chill, Dog

Unfortunately, there's no magic bullet to stop a dog from freaking out on the Fourth of July. Dogs differ just as much as people do, which means nothing is one-size-fits-all. But there are plenty of expert-backed strategies you can try. The Humane Society recommends creating a safe space for your dog to go when he hears scary noises. The best way to find that place is just by following his lead—wherever he wants to go when panic strikes should be easy to access and free of other scary things. There, you can use distraction methods, such as giving him treats, playing soft music, or providing belly rubs.

You can also prepare beforehand through what's known as counter-conditioning. Create a recording of fireworks, and start by playing it at a low enough volume so that your dog doesn't get scared. Then do something he enjoys, like scratching his ears or feeding him dinner. Do it again every day with the recording a little bit louder. (You should be careful with this, however. If your dog "displays fearful behavior at any time while the tape is playing, STOP. Begin your next session at a lower volume, one that doesn't produce anxiety, and proceed more slowly," the Humane Society says). Above all, you should be sympathetic. Never resort to yelling or punishment, since that will just make a scared dog even more afraid.

For more ways to calm your dog's nerves, check out "From Fearful to Fear Free: A Positive Program to Free Your Dog from Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias" by Marty Becker, DVM. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

How to Calm a Dog That's Afraid of Thunderstorms

Written by Ashley Hamer June 30, 2017

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