Fear and fireworks


With July 4th just around the corner I thought I'd talk about this particular fear based behavior. Tilley is my fearful dog; she is terrified of fireworks. She never use to be; back when we lived in Canada it was Clyde (my male before Luke) who was petrified of storms and fireworks. It was about 6 years ago when she first showed signs of fireworks fear. Up until that point she had been fine with storms and light up the sky celebrations. So what happened? Who knows but she is now one of the many dogs fearful of fireworks.

All dogs display their fear differently; Tilley digs, she is luckily not a runner. Clyde was a climber and runner; running is the worst. If they get out of the safety of their home they can end up anywhere as they mindless attempt to run from the explosions. But luckily Tilley doesn't run; she hides and has been found in the bathroom; perhaps she feels safe in the small room. I located her once in our closet; she had tossed the entire contents in the small area everywhere. She'd dug and dug to no avail; there she lay at the top of the heap that she'd created. Tilley is obviously trying to hide; to somehow get away from the object of her fear by digging a hole.

Since the appearance of her fireworks fear have tried our best to ignore it and go about our business as usual. We rarely go out to watch the displays; opting to be at home just to be sure that she is fine. But last year we tried something new; we have a great balcony off of our bedroom where we sit and watch. The displays are pretty far away so there is no loud booming or huge explosions right near where we sit; it is all in the distance. We got chairs out and brought the three dogs out there to watch with us. Because they are so far away; I thought it might just help her to become accustom to the sound so that she may have a lesser fear response. (NEVER BRING YOUR DOG TO A FIREWORKS DISPLAY) We sat with a glass of wine and chatted; Luke and Jessie lay on their bed and Tilley paced. She paced and sat; then paced some more. So I asked her to come and sit by me; I did not touch her.

Soon she started to relax; everything around her was calm, I got my camera out with my big zoom lens and shot fireworks and she watched us intently. This is when it is EXTREMELY important to play "chill." You need to do your best and most relaxed display of behavior ever; sort of like "what fireworks?" She was soon relaxing; not completely but there was a marked improvement. I decided to get out her ball and see if we could even create a positive association; all is well when you are playing with a tennis ball. I tossed it around to see if there was any tiny interest; Luke snatched it up in a flash. This was good because it took Tilley's mind off of the noise and flashes and onto Luke stealing the tennis ball. And with Luke playing ball; this had a very calming affect on Tilley.

She is not cured of her fireworks fear but she sure got through it last year with flying colors. This year I am hoping to try out a product call the Thunder shirt; I am very excited to try it out and hope that it gets here in time for the fireworks display. And on Tilley's next visit to the vet I will give it a try as well; she comes unglued when there is a veterinarian visit required.

For all dog owners; even ones who do not have dogs that already show signs of fear during fireworks, pay extra attention to safety.

- Make sure that your dog is indoors safely confined; keep dog doors closed.
- Turn the tv or radio on to add some constant noise.
- If your dog is fearful; best to stay home with them.
- Many dogs become injured trying to get out of a house when they are in such a state of fear; often a crate is the only safe place for these guy.
- Never respond to fear behaviors with petting and hugging.
- Put on your best "chill" face; inform the entire family to do the same.

Far too many dogs end up in shelters or worse on July 4th; left in their yard they become frenzied and attempt to escape the noise. Once they are out they will just run. In this state they have no idea where they are running; they are just running. So lock up the dogs on July 4th and NEVER BRING YOUR DOGS TO A FIREWORKS DISPLAYS.

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